Fletcher Allen, a Vermont university hospital and medical center, serves all of
Vermont and the northern New York region. Located in Burlington, Fletcher Allen is a regional, academic healthcare center and teaching hospital in alliance with the University of Vermont.
No One Dies Alone
A national program new to Fletcher Allen has a goal that is evident in its title: No One Dies Alone. The program offers support and comfort to patients at the end of life – and to their families – and is staffed by hospital volunteers who have gone through an additional training program. Patients are referred to the program by our Palliative Care team.
The effort to bring the program to Fletcher Allen was initiated by Director of Volunteer Services Margaret Laughlin, who says that when she sent out the word, "The response was amazing."
Among those responding was Ann Slattery, Fletcher Allen's Health Assistance Program coordinator from Community Health Improvement, who previously worked at the Visiting Nurse Association's Respite House in Williston. Margaret credits Ann with pulling the program together, with ample help from Barb Segal, R.N., and Maura McClure, R.N., the two clinical nurse specialists who work with palliative care patients. They also drew on the experience of other Vermonters with end-of-life training.
Patients likely to be referred to the new program are Palliative Care patients who are nearing the end of life and have few or no family members who live locally. The goal of palliative care is to relieve the pain, symptoms and stress of serious illness regardless of the patient's prognosis. Some, but not all, are in hospice care.
Approximately 20 current hospital volunteers of varying ages and backgrounds signed up for the program. Many also have hospice training. Their role is simply to be there with patients when they die. While some minimum contact is permitted – holding a hand, maybe – the nursing staff provides patient care.
Each death is different – "It's never routine," says Maura – and the staff also makes sure that the volunteers are taken care of. Ann, Barb, and Maura spoke of the great emotion present at death, and said those who lose a loved one never forget the volunteers or staff who go through the experience with them.
The group hopes that No One Dies Alone supports and deepens the Palliative Care program, which served 800 patients in 2009 and has 15 to 25 patients under their care at any one time. Of those, Barb and Maura say, one to three patients are "actively dying" on any given day. Now, fewer will do so without the support of a caring volunteer.