She was in her 40s, dying of cancer with no family members who could be with her. The hospital team worked to help her children, ages 12 and 17, to say goodbye to their mother. A volunteer from No One Dies Alone was called in, and the children were told that this volunteer would be there for their mom in her last moments of life. The children then went to stay with friends.
“The patient was not communicative at all,” says Cindy Mueller, vice president of mission integration at Mission Hospital. But after four hours, says Mueller, the woman opened her eyes, turned toward the volunteer with a tear in her eye, and mouthed the words ‘thank you.’
This is just one story of many that reveal the importance of the No One Dies Alone (NODA) program. Begun in 2001 by a nurse in Oregon, it is today offered at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Mission Hospital and Mission Hospital Laguna Beach.
How it works
Volunteers are trained by members of the palliative care and spiritual care teams to sit and provide comfort to a dying person who has no one else to be with them in the final hours or days of life. The idea is to be “a healing, loving presence,” as Mueller puts it. She has been a nurse for 30 years and has been with many dying patients in their last moments.
What do NODA volunteers do? “There is no agenda but to meet the patient’s needs,” says Mueller. An organizer schedules the volunteers in four-hour shifts.
When volunteers sit with patients who are conscious and “actively dying,” says Mueller, they might play music, pray with them or engage in conversation. Each volunteer brings a backpack for carrying items such as a bible, music CDs, aromatherapy, poetry books – whatever might relax the patient and put him or her at ease. Volunteers are instructed to call the doctor or nurse immediately if a dying person shows signs of struggle or pain.
“It’s a sacred ministry that honors the dignity of the person as they journey from earthly life into everlasting life,” Mueller says. “It’s giving witness to God’s love in the world — and it’s what Jesus wants of us.”
When family can’t be there
Doctors, nurses or chaplains who learn that a dying patient’s family members live far away, or can’t get to the hospital when the end is near, will call for a NODA volunteer. Some patients have no family left, and sometimes their family relationships are broken, says Mueller.
Dying can take days. “There are times when the family needs some respite care,” she explains. Knowing that a NODA volunteer will sit at the bedside of the dying person gives the family a break and provides reassurance that their loved one is being watched and cared for.
Part of the mission
The No One Dies Alone program fits perfectly with the mission of St. Joseph Health: to provide whole-person care to their patients. This means that dying people receive the same excellent care as every other patient.