Babies are born into the world surrounded by parents, nurses, and doctors. Without question, they are never alone. After life has been lived, most people would like to think that they won’t be alone in death, either.
Patients whose lives cannot be prolonged with further medical intervention at Baystate Medical Center are often surrounded by family or friends in their final moments. Nurses and doctors do their best to comfort and care for them as they slowly begin the dying process. For others, however, this bedside companionship from family and friends is not always a reality. For these heartbreaking situations, the team from No One Dies Alone steps in, led by Ute Schmidt, manager of Spiritual Services.
“In 2015, we identified several situations where people died alone, where they were alone at the end of their lives, and we felt heartache about that,” Schmidt says.
No One Dies Alone (NODA) is comprised of hospital employees and community members who volunteer their time to sit with patients during their final hours of life. The program started in an Oregon hospital, and has been adopted at other select institutions.
“I am excited about the response from Baystate staff and volunteers in the community who want to do this - who want to offer their presence and compassion for people who don’t have anybody in their lives,” Schmidt says.
Kathy Martin is a retired town administrator who has spent about 10 hours volunteering this year. “I got involved because I thought it was an excellent program when I heard about it,” Martin says. “It just didn’t seem fair that there wasn’t someone there with you when you left the world. So, that was my major motivation for getting involved.”
Some patients who are visited by NODA volunteers want to talk about their life and memories. Some cry. Others laugh. Some like to listen to music. Others prefer silence, knowing that someone like Martin’s simple presence is enough. That was the approach Martin took for her first client.
“That was quite an experience, because right off the bat, it made me move from thinking about what I was getting out of the experience to what she was getting out of the experience, and that was what was important,” Martin says. “People are so different, and everybody does things differently, and it was wonderful to see a different way of dying, and still provide assistance and peace.”
Teamwork & Training
Nurses often initiate the NODA process when they recognize that someone is likely in their final hours. Volunteers are on call during certain days of the month, and wait for a phone call to come to the hospital to be with a patient. There is a full orientation and training process volunteers must complete before their first visit.
The training includes “self-reflection, to being able to learn about the dying process," says Schmidt. "Our team who trains these volunteers is really multidisciplinary. We have a nurse, a social worker, a couple chaplains, who talk from their own experience, personally and professionally to mentor the volunteers into this role. And we make sure the volunteers know there is always someone available to debrief with about the situation that they experienced.”
Feedback on the program has been positive. Some family members of dying loved ones who could not physically be with them have expressed gratitude that their loved one was never alone. Patients, who for a variety of personal reasons did not have a loved one who could be with them, have expressed appreciation for companionship in their own unique ways.
A second batch of volunteers is preparing to join the NODA ranks, with a high recommendation from Martin. “Each person is a person and they have their own needs, skills, successes, and stories in life,” she says. “If you listen to people talk, it’s just amazing, so they deserve that respect. They deserve to have someone there with them when they die.”