Sandra Clarke, CCRN, was walking her initial rounds one night at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Oregon. One of her seven patients who was close to death weakly asked her if she could stay with him.
Clarke said that she would come back as soon as she checked on her other patients. She could tell that the end of this man’s life was very close.
When she returned, it was too late. He had passed away. Alone.
Clarke felt horrible. Attending to her other patients had only taken an hour and half, but it was too long. She wrote, “It was okay for him to die, it was his time—but not alone.”
She began talking to her peers about her idea for a volunteer program where people could sign up to sit with lonely people who were near death. For 16 years, it was just a conversation.
One day while she was sharing this idea, Bob Scheri, the pastoral care director at her hospital, overheard the conversation. He asked Clarke to write a proposal so that he could take it to headquarters for consideration.
The “No One Dies Alone” program was founded in 2001 and has since been adopted by other hospitals around the country.
Companions come and sit with patients who are estranged from family, don’t have family, or were just traveling when something horrible happened. They sign up for two or three hour shifts where they can just talk or read to the patient.
They are even encouraged to play music or sing if they find out the patient enjoys that! Companions can also simply come, sit, and hold the patients hand to let them know that they aren’t alone.
Megan Porter, a social worker at Eskenazi Health in Indianapolis said, “A lot of the families are very grateful, they appreciate it because sometimes it’s just too much for the family to handle. That’s when we give the opportunity to be able to kind of step into that role.”
Companions, along with help from medical staff, are able to ensure that people are able to die with dignity.
Porter said it this way, “It’s important for us that nobody has to die alone. We think that a cornerstone of providing good healthcare.”
“No One Dies Alone” has helped combat the problem that Clarke first saw back in Eugene, Oregon. and has allowed many to pass knowing they were cared for.
“Being able to be with a patient, hold their hand and to know that there is somebody caring for them, even if they may not know them. I think that it the most important thing,” Porter said.
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