Posted at: 10/08/2013 10:59 PM
By: John Doetkott
Volunteers Ensure 'No One Dies Alone'
(ABC 6 News) -- Medical professionals rightly spend almost all of their time trying to get patients healthy and out of the hospital.
But now a growing number of people are putting more focus on those who will remain in the hospital until the very end.
In hospitals around the world, a program called No One Dies Alone pairs terminally ill patients with volunteers who hold vigils and stay with them until they pass.
“During the last hours before someone passes away, someone has been there to make sure they're comfortable, to make sure that their end is in a dignified way,” said Sandra Clarke, the program’s creator.
Clarke started No One Dies Alone in 2001 after an experience she had as a nurse left her shaken.
A patient had asked her to stay with him, but she had other patients to attend to, and before she could return, the man had passed away.
“It made me so angry that something so simple, his request to be with him, that's all he wanted was companionship as he passed away, I couldn't give him,” Clarke said.
The program at the Mayo Clinic just turned two-years-old, and in that time more than 500 volunteers have helped 52 patients, spending over 700 hours by their side.
But volunteers said the numbers don't even begin to describe the program's importance.
“Somebody sitting there, holding their hands when they're taking their last breath, can't be counted,” said Amanda Meyer, a nurse and one of the program’s organizers. “You can't do measures, you can't look at the data and how much money it saves, but the impact it has on people's lives is amazing."
More than 80 percent of the program’s volunteers are current Mayo employees, and nurses said the program is a big benefit to them because they know that someone is with their patient even when they can't be by their side.
But as difficult as it can be emotionally, volunteers said they are more than happy to help.
“It’s something simple we can do for others,” Clarke said. “It's not complicated, it doesn't cost a lot of money, but it means a lot."
When the program was created, Clarke and others developed a training book, which they did not trademark, in hopes that the idea would spread and more people could be helped.
The program is now in more than 900 hospitals world-wide.