‘No One Dies Alone’ ensures compassionate care in patients’ final moments

holding hands
Written by Lisa Kaylor

Many patients have family and friends who surround them during their final moments of life. Others – due to any number of circumstances – find themselves alone, without the support and emotional comfort people need during this often-difficult time.

To ensure that all patients have companionship and compassionate care at the end of their lives, the Office of Spiritual Care at AU Health is launching an initiative called No One Dies Alone (NODA). The program is based on the premise that dying patients should not be left alone during their final moments.

“For patients without families, this means having a peaceful transition,” said Rev. Stephen Hughes, Associate Director of Spiritual Care. “Somebody is constantly with them, holding their hand, letting them know it’s okay, you’re not alone. I love you. All those things.”

At the heart of the program are caring volunteers. Hughes said the department is looking for six volunteers to begin the program. They will go through training together, form a team to support each other and will take turns sitting with patients who are alone and close to the end of life.

Potential volunteers will go through a drug screen, a background check and a rigorous screening process to ensure they truly want to provide compassionate care. Hughes said he wants to ensure that the volunteers are committed to serving and not just looking for something good to do.

Training includes learning about the dying process, how to provide the care the patient needs, how to be inclusive and how to use inclusive language during those times.

“Training would include what to do to provide that compassionate presence – what tools are available, what to do and not to do in the room, etc.,” he said.

If a family is unable to be with a loved one, it can be a comfort for them, as well, to know their loved one will not be alone in their final moments. Chaplains work together as a team to be with patients at the end of life, and NODA volunteers will partner with them to provide this meaningful care.

Hughes recalls a day during the pandemic in which he’d been with several patients in their last moments that day, but one patient in particular stands out. The patient’s family couldn’t be with him because they all had COVID-19. Hughes had talked with them by phone to assist physicians in getting permission to put the patient on comfort care. The family asked Hughes to stay with the patient, had told him some of the patient’s favorite songs.

“I took my phone in there with him and played some of his favorite music until he passed. The family really, really didn’t want him to be alone,” he said. “If it was my family, I would want somebody with him, just to let him know it’s going to be okay.”

For more information, or to learn how to apply, call Hughes or Chaplain Linda Hamilton in The Office of Spiritual Care at 706-721-2929.