Healthcare News & Insights

Program gives support to dying hospital patients

Part of a hospital’s job involves administering care to dying patients. While many patients have family members and friends at their bedside if the worst happens, not every patient has that luxury. Some facilities have responded to that need by creating programs designed to give patients comfort and support during their last moments. 

One of the most popular volunteer programs for terminal patients is the No One Dies Alone program. According to an article from Boston’s WBUR, the program was first created in 2001 at Sacred Heart Hospital in Eugene, OR.

Over the past 16 years, the No One Dies Alone program has grown at the hospital, as described on the website for Sacred Heart’s parent health system, PeaceHealth. Employees from any department of the hospital can sign up to volunteer for the program by filling out a form online.

Once approved as volunteers, employees sign a confidentiality agreement to protect the privacy of each patient – and keep them from running afoul of HIPAA laws. Then, after going through an hour-long orientation session, they sign up for different dates where they’re available to serve as “compassionate companions.”

Volunteers aren’t expected to perform their normal hospital duties when serving as companions for terminal patients. Instead, their sole purpose is to stay with the dying patient, doing everything from playing soothing music to whispering comforting words while holding the person’s hand. Volunteers are also provided with religious materials, but they aren’t used unless patients themselves request them.

In some cases, volunteers will involve animals in the process. At another No One Dies Alone program, sponsored by UCLA Medical Center, trained volunteers bring their pets with them.

One volunteer brings her golden retriever therapy dog to dying patients’ bedsides. With the permission of family members or nurses, she’ll put the dog on the bed next to the patient as a way for the person to receive physical comfort from a friendly animal.

Other No One Dies Alone programs can be found in hospitals across the country, each with a similar structure and mission.

Compassionate care

Because the feds are encouraging more providers to focus on end-of-life care for patients, programs like No One Dies Alone fit well with that objective. And since they’re mostly staffed by volunteers, these programs are an excellent way for facilities to improve the quality of care they provide patients without making any costly investments.

For hospitals that are interested in starting a similar program, PeaceHealth has information on its website that can point facilities in the right direction, including resources for training volunteers.

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