University of Utah Hospital volunteers launch effort to ensure no patient dies alone

Volunteers at Salt Lake City-based University of Utah Hospital are serving as around-the-clock companions for patients in their final days of life — an effort to ensure no patient dies alone, according to The Salt Lake Tribune

A newly formed group of around 20 hospital volunteers, including nurse case manager Jim Geiermann, RN, and a number of hospital employees and medical students, recently met in the hospital's Serenity Room to learn about the program, called No One Dies Alone.

The volunteers sit with patients who are close to dying and hold their hands, read to them, talk about their lives or play music.

Although patients are frequently unable to respond, volunteers said it is important to make sure someone is present for their final moments. "You're not their nurse. You're not their doctor. You're not anybody else — you're just there for them," social worker Heather Smith told the volunteers.

The NODA volunteer organization, which formed in 2001, has expanded to hospitals nationwide with locations in Singapore.

Sandra Clarke, RN, a nurse based in Eugene, Ore., sparked the idea for NODA after she encountered a patient during a night shift with a "do not resuscitate" order, who appeared to be close to death.

"He could barely speak, and he said, 'Will you stay with me?'" Ms. Clarke recalled. "And I said, 'Well, I can't right now. I've got to see my other patients first. But as soon as I get done, I'll come back and be with you.'"

But by the time Ms. Clarke returned to the patient, he was dead — with his arm stretched out, as if he was reaching for someone.

"The sense of frustration and anger was overwhelming," Ms. Clarke said. "He had a simple wish that was easily granted, and I couldn't do it. "From that moment on, it became something important for me — to find a way we could be with patients at the end of life."

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