ELET Social Worker, Jill Shoffner

Jill Shoffner isn’t necessarily the first person you notice when you walk into a room. Her presence and personality don’t jump out and grab you; she’s comfortable sitting in the background and listening to the buzz of conversation around her, absorbing others’ thoughts and weighing their perspectives. But when the moment is right she doesn’t hesitate to speak up, whether it’s to offer serious insights into the situation or insert a witty remark that cracks everyone else up.

March is National Social Work Month, which is a great time to celebrate LCSW Jill Shoffner, Care Coordinator Manager at Elder Law of East Tennessee. Jill is critical to the unique services provided at ELET, and her professional skills and personal warmth are invaluable to clients and coworkers alike.

But why is a social worker like Jill employed at a law firm? It’s a combination that isn’t typical in either the care or the legal industry.

Elder Law of East Tennessee is built around a comprehensive service called Life Care Planning. In this model, an attorney and a care coordinator join forces to plan for a wide range of legal and care issues surrounding aging and disability. The elder and caregiving family members have a single resource to answer questions like, “Where can I find care services for my loved one?” and “How am I going to pay for support services?” and even “When is the right time to consider moving to residential care?” A legal framework is necessary to delegate decision-making to family caregivers, but after that the service is primarily care-focused.

That’s where Jill comes in.

Jill helps families facing care crises navigate a complex network of services and providers and come up with creative solutions. These solutions maximize the elder’s happiness and safety, minimize family caregiver stress, and restore balance and security for the whole family. Her natural people skills combined with fourteen years of experience as a care coordinator make her essential. She brings to the table detailed knowledge of elder care resources in the community, familiarity with programs like TennCare and VA that help pay for care, and a great deal of wisdom borne from experience of helping hundreds of elders and their families find their way. She also emanates a natural calmness and empathy that invites clients and their families to open up about their worries and the challenges they are managing.

“Jill is the coast guard in a stressed-out family’s life,” says coworker Malinda Joshi. “She jumps into stormy water with them and drags them back to solid ground. The wind and waves are against her. Sometimes the people being rescued resist because they’re desperate and scared. But with Jill they’re in good hands, and she just keeps working quickly and steadily to get them where they need to be, overcoming every obstacle along the way.”

The rescue plan looks different for every family.  Often it involves finding in-home care services or residential facility placement.  She spends lots of time coaching elders and family caregivers about big or small adjustments they can make to their lives and surroundings to reduce stress and improve safety. She helps families develop care plans and learn how to better respond as needs increase. She advocates for the client with service providers and with agencies helping to pay for care. She provides sensible and honest guidance for the family’s unique situation.  She offers reassurance throughout stressful times of change.  She actively listens to each person, answering their questions and getting to the root of underlying fears so that problems can be overcome and positive outcomes can be reached.

Sounds superhuman? Jill comes pretty close.

Jill has a genuine passion for helping others work through the care planning process. “I am grateful to be able to support others in their times of need. It a privilege to work so closely with others and build meaningful and encouraging relationships,” she says. “My work and coworkers at Elder Law of East Tennessee offer a supportive and stimulating atmosphere. Our work helps real people with real problems, and we are able to see the positive results play out over time.” As Jill tackles problem after problem, her clients and their families are able to relax and shift their energy from putting out fires to enjoying their time with one another.

Jill’s role as a care coordinator is rewarding but can take a toll.  Besides the urgency of the situations her clients’ families face, Jill also spends a lot of time absorbing other people’s heightened emotions and frantic energy.  Finding ways to let that go is crucial to her personal health and continued ability to provide exceptional support services. As her coworkers are well aware, Jill’s calm, soothing professionalism is paired with a heaping dose of folksy humor – and a taste for sometimes unexpected pastimes. She recently picked up the drums:  not relatively quiet hand drums, like bongos, but a full-on rock ‘n roll drum kit. It provides her with a fun way to constructively “wail away on something,” in Jill’s words, and helps her release the stresses of work. She is also an avid sports fan from a family of basketball fanatics, and she enjoys unwinding at Lady Vols home games surrounded by the energy of other fans.

In contrast to her more raucous activities, Jill’s other favorite pastimes are spending time outdoors and exploring places she’s never been. She enjoys gardening, doing yard work, and watching the rhythmic change of seasons, all grounding activities that instill her with the calmness she carries back into work every day.