Six months into the launch of its No One Dies Alone (NODA) program, Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center continues to build its volunteer ranks to help meet end-of-life care need.
“We talk about it being a patient need, but it’s really a need of our own to serve – an opportunity for us to serve somewhere,” said Randy Tingle, FSRMC’s chaplain. “For those people who have a need to serve, this is an opportunity to do so.”
No One Dies Alone, a national volunteer program that recognizes the right of every person not to die alone, was launched last January at Fort Sanders Regional soon after a case manager on the hospital’s oncology floor asked Tingle what could be done for the 10 or so patients who die alone at the hospital each year. Tingle’s research led him to NODA and eventually to training for volunteers or “compassionate companions,” as they are more appropriately known. The program is currently being tested on Regional’s oncology floor, with the hope of spreading it house-wide in the next year.
While University of Tennessee students made up about half the first group of community volunteers, Regional employees have also volunteered their time to serve. Donna McLaughlin, Fort Sanders Regional’s manager of sterile processing, was among the first employees to sign up.
“The number one reason I chose to do this is I am a firm believer that no one should ever die alone,” said McLaughlin. “You’re brought into this world with somebody there, and you should leave the same way – never alone. I watched my mother make that transition and that was probably my biggest thought at that time: This lady watched me come into the world, and how blessed I am to be with her as she passed on. That’s always resonated with me.”
McLaughlin is one of three Fort Sanders Regional employees who have answered the call to serve as NODA compassionate companions, Tingle says. He would like to see a “50/50 mix” of community volunteers and employees.
“We have had as many as 35 volunteers at one time. Now we’re down to 27 because we lost several to graduation in May,” he said. “I’d really like to see us have 75 volunteers to have a really good, consistent core group to help us, because we never know when a NODA need is going to arise. A lot of times you go to make phone calls and it’s just not a good time for people to serve because they are in the midst of whatever else life has them in the moment. It’s not that they won’t serve the next patient who comes along with that particular vigil, it’s just that they can’t show up during the next 48 to 72 hours. It’s just not always an opportune time for all of our volunteers when it happens.”
McLaughlin sat vigil with three of eight NODA patients since January. In each case, they were unconscious before slipping silently away. Still, McLaughlin let them know they were not alone.
“I go in and introduce myself and tell them what a privilege it is to be here with them during this part of their life,” she said. “Because I come from a Christian background, I normally will take a certain passage from the Bible and I read it out loud. I believe that they can hear and I just want them to know where I am coming from – it may not resonate with them but it sure makes me feel good about it. So there is a conversation that occurs. I normally talk to them about what is going on, what I know about them. You don’t want them to be that person who is lying there and being the third person in the room who everybody is talking about. It’s including them in whatever is happening in the room.”
While McLaughlin counts her time spent with a dying patient as a blessing, she also feels a sense of gratitude from the nurses who have been caring for the patient. “What was so amazing was the feeling that you get from the nursing staff, just the thankfulness that they have just because you are there,” she said. “You feel like they are supporting you and you are supporting them.”
For more information about NODA or to volunteer, call the chaplain’s office at (865) 331-1235. NODA training is 90 minutes long and is offered every third Monday at noon in the Chaplain’s Conference Room at FSRMC.