Newswise — When it’s all said and done, the ultimate hope is to have loved ones by our bedside, to be surrounded by our closest friends and family in that final moment, reflecting on a lifetime of memories, finding comfort at the end of life’s journey.

But for some dying patients, that final moment can be a lonely one.

Volunteers at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Md., are working to change that, making sure more patients who are facing death with no family or friends nearby have someone to hold their hands. Funded by nursing, the No One Dies Alone program trains compassionate companions who will sit bedside with such patients. “Our volunteers are there to be in the moment, at that final moment, as a sense of offering to the dying,” explains Mary Aguilera-Titus, a licensed massage therapist at Suburban who was instrumental in bringing the program to Bethesda. “Most volunteers are there to give back, to return the comfort that someone else has offered their loved one in the past. They know what a profound experience it truly is.”

The nurses at Suburban support the program because they can care for all of their patients with peace of mind that those who need companionship will get the compassionate presence they need and dignity they deserve. “I think this program epitomizes patient-centered care--supporting patients when they are most at need and not even able to ask,” explains Barbara Jacobs, MSN, RN-BC, CCRN, chief nursing officer at Suburban.

Begun in Eugene, OR in 2001, No One Dies Alone has since been adopted and refined by hospitals nationwide.

“It is really moving to the nursing staff to see so many non-clinical staff members volunteering their time,” Jacobs adds. “For those who don’t have loved ones close by, this is an extremely powerful program. The volunteers who have been bedside understand what it means to share this time with patients and to experience for the first time [for many] such a moving moment.”

“We care so much about and do so much for childbirth, the first phase of life. So why not do the same at the end of life’s journey for those in need?” says Aguilera-Titus. “To me, that’s an amazing gift to give.”

This article appears in the Summer 2014 issue of Johns Hopkins Nursing magazine.

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