Volunteers care for patients in their final moments through special program
WICHITA, Kan. – Seventeen days after drawing his first breath, an infant died in Wesley Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit – while his parents were taking care of their other child, unable to get to the hospital in time. Thankfully, he wasn’t alone. A volunteer with Wesley’s No One Dies Alone program was there to rock and comfort the child during his final moments.
“It’s all-too-tragic and all-too common that a patient dies without family or friends present,” said Teresa German, Wesley’s trauma case manager and the program’s coordinator. “Whether it’s someone who doesn’t have any family left, or – as with our 17-day-old – a patient passes away too quickly for family to arrive, Wesley volunteers are by their sides.”
The volunteers are activated when nursing staff identify a solitary patient near the end of life. German is then paged, and she calls on-duty volunteers who report at any time, day or night.
The volunteers then rotate at the patient’s bedside, maintaining a constant presence until the end. After the patient passes, Wesley’s chaplain services conduct a debriefing with the volunteers and caregivers involved. During that time, everyone who encountered the patient shares their memories and special moments – a ritual German says is healing for the caregivers, as well.
“These amazing, compassionate people offer up their free time to sit with people in their final hours,” she said. “Giving them this time to celebrate that bond – no matter how brief it may have been – is the least we can do for them.”
“With the 17-day-old baby, his life touched so many of us. Offering stories about him and his family was the only thing that helped us all grieve.”
Since its inception, No One Dies Alone volunteers have sat with dozens of patients, talking with them and providing support. The program first started in 2009, as a project spearheaded by guest services and communications manager, Carol Stricker, and Wesley’s president and CEO, Hugh Tappan.
“At Wesley, we’re committed to caring for patients every step of their journey – including the end,” Tappan said. “And sometimes, that’s as simple as staying by someone’s side and letting them know they are not alone.”
Current volunteers for No One Dies Alone come from many walks and talks of life – including former beneficiaries of the program. German knows several volunteers who were unable to reach their own family members and friends in time, but who later signed up for No One Dies Alone in gratitude.
“Beyond the comfort we give patients at the end, No One Dies Alone has been an unbelievable blessing to many families. And we’re very fortunate and proud to provide that.”
Overall, No One Dies Alone ensures patients’ emotional and spiritual needs are met during one of the two universal human experiences.
“No one comes into this world alone, and no one should leave that way, either,” Stricker said. “Everybody should have someone with them when they die.”
Prospective volunteers for No One Dies Alone should call Wesley’s volunteer services department at 312-962-2100. Interested individuals are required to register and train as Wesley volunteers, and they must have three months’ volunteer experience before serving as a No One Dies Alone volunteer.