No one is born, alone, and no one should die alone. That is the philosophy of a 13-year-old program at Intermountain Medical Center that ensures that no person will ever die alone.
It’s the gentle touch and kind words. Not everyone is so lucky, like 104-year-old John Sims, who has his daughters by his side. For various reasons, a patient might be alone. They could be homeless, traveling through the state and got into an accident or their family is unable to be at the bedside around the clock.
Thanks to leaders and volunteers in this program, anyone who passes away at the hospital, has someone at their bedside around the clock to hold their hand at the end, to be there and let them know that someone cares about them.
The program, called “No One Dies Alone,” was introduced in 2005. More than 60 hospital volunteers — including a couple of physicians, nurses, aides, patient transporters, a social worker, even a cafeteria worker — take three-hour shifts around the clock to stay with and provide comfort to those who are winding down in the hospital. They call it the “gift of presence” — of simply being there and caring.
They undergo special training, but most of the training is very literally hands-on at the bedside.
About three times a month, a terminally ill patient at one of the hospitals has neither family nor close friends to be with them as they near the end of life.
“Not only is dying alone a major fear for most of us,” but it’s a reality for those whose friends and loved ones have passed before them or scattered to other places.
While the program was designed for patients with no family, it didn’t take long to see another need for it.
One of the many things that program volunteers have learned is that families get exhausted when they do this vigil. So, occasionally, the “No One Dies Alone” volunteer is called upon to give the family brief respite, reassured that the person they love is not alone.
Training includes what it’s like when someone is dying and what their needs might be. Even though most of the volunteers work daily in a hospital, a lot of them have never seen someone die. So a nurse explains what the dying process looks like.
Another segment is on “taking care of yourself” after the death. Many of our volunteers have commented on what a profound experience this has been for them.
Trainers emphasize the importance of processing the death “with important people in their own lives, not ignoring the experience.
The volunteers are told that hearing is the last sense to go, so much of what they do involves music or conversation. They talk to the patient, sometimes about what’s going on, even just about the weather.
The program is based on one started by a woman in Oregon who said people are not born alone and they should not die alone, either.
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