Margaret Laughlin is Director of Volunteer Services at the UVM Medical Center.

As at any hospital, patients at the UVM Medical Center are sometimes alone at their life’s end:  some outlive family and friends, some are estranged, and others have loving families unable to arrive at their bedside in time to say goodbye. No One Dies Alone (NODA) is an internationally acclaimed program that provides companionship and comfort for such patients, and the primary goal is to have none of them die alone.

NODA was introduced in 2001 at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Oregon, (www.peacehealth.org/oregon/noonediesalone_program.htm). Today, NODA programs are budding all over the globe. The UVM Medical Center introduced a NODA program this March, and 40 trained volunteers are currently serving patients at our Medical Center Campus.

NODA volunteers provide  a supportive presence for dying patients. Their role is simply to be there with patients when they die to hold their hand, speak softly, play soothing music or whatever else the particular situation warrants. Nurses provide all personal care, but volunteers are in direct communication with nursing and observe each patient for signs of pain, agitation and other conditions that can be remedied.

Each death is different, but every death is filled with great emotion for all involved. Supporting a dying patient – and in some cases, family members who are present – is a privilege and an honor for volunteers. NODA volunteers work with our Palliative Care Service team, whose primary goal is to relieve the pain, symptoms and stress of serious illness regardless of the prognosis. Adding NODA broadens our existing Palliative Care program, which served 800 patients in 2009 and cares for 15 to 25 patients at any given time.

This program truly makes a difference. One family member unable to be with his terminally ill father at the UVM Medical Center wrote that he was “unable to explain sufficiently how knowing that there was a volunteer from the No One Dies Alone program with our father when he passed from this life helped to ease the sadness for his entire family…. We will forever carry gratitude in our hearts knowing that our father did not die alone.”

We are currently recruiting additional volunteers.  In the absence of a NODA volunteer, nurses provide wonderful support for dying patients, but it is helpful when a volunteer assists. If you are interested in finding out more about the NODA program at the UVM Medical Center, please contact Margaret Laughlin, Director of Volunteer Services, at 802-847-3166 or Margaret.laughlin@vtmednet.org.

Margaret Laughlin is Director of Volunteer Services at the UVM Medical Center.

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