Volunteers at Oaklawn make sure No One Dies Alone


Ronda Sullivan,
Clinical Nurse Director

Oaklawn Hospital is one of the few hospitals in the area to implement a program called “No One Dies Alone” (NODA).  The purpose of the program is to provide reassuring companionship to dying patients who would otherwise be alone.   

The NODA program first surfaced at a hospital in Eugene, Oregon, in 2001.  It took very little time for the program to inspire interest worldwide.  In 2005 a number of hospitals in the metro Detroit area became the first to bring it to Michigan.  When Kristin Sims, Oaklawn’s Chief Nursing Officer, first read about the program, she knew it was something that would be embraced at Oaklawn.  

Sims asked Ronda Sullivan, the Clinical Nurse Director of Oaklawn’s Critical Care Unit, to head up a multi-disciplinary team representing several hospital departments.  “It only took one meeting for us to get excited about this program,” Sullivan said.  “We chose to call ourselves ‘Compassionate Companions’ and it includes Hospice trained volunteers as well as hospital employees who volunteer their time.”  

Ten Compassionate Companion volunteers underwent training last August, and the program officially went live in September.  “This service fills a critical need,” Sullivan said, “not only for the patient, but also to give loved ones a much needed break.”  

Each month the Compassionate Companions sign up for days and times when they can be “on call” so that every hour of every day someone is available should the need arise.  When there is a need, volunteers receive a call from the on duty Nursing Supervisor.  “It may only be a couple hours a month that a Companion is needed,” said Sullivan, “but to that patient those two hours of companionship are priceless.”  

“When a volunteer comes in, their only task is to make their assigned patient feel comfortable and reassured,” Sullivan explains.  “They’re not there to provide nursing care or treatment, even if they are a nurse.  Their job is to provide soothing companionship, more like a good friend than a caregiver.”  The program has supplies such as puzzles, reading materials, and CD players to provide music.  Sometimes Companions simply provide a soothing voice or a reassuring hand to hold. 

Because of Oaklawn’s size, the need for volunteers is sporadic, but Sullivan and the others feel it’s been a wonderful addition that could grow and reach a need to add volunteers from the community.  “The volunteers that serve this program are not rewarded monetarily,” Sullivan stated. “But every one of them will tell you how personally rewarding it is for them to be able to provide the most valuable of human gifts - a dignified death.”


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