Volunteers to provide comfort to people in their final days
In ideal circumstances, people would spend their last days surrounded by loved ones. As they look around at those gathered around their hospital bed, their last memories would be filled with a compassionate gaze, tender touch and kind words.
However, there are too many times where people die alone, explained Lori Torrano, adjunct chaplain at Norwalk Hospital. While making rounds one day, offering spiritual support to those in the last stage of dying, Torrano was surprised to see a man who she initially met at a local nursing home. She remembered him as vibrant, friendly and someone who everyone liked.
Yet here he was, all alone at Norwalk Hospital. Filled with sadness, Torrano decided that no one should have to die alone.
"He was funny. Everybody loved him," Torrano said. "It broke my heart to see that when he was dying, he was alone."
While enrolled in the Norwalk Hospital's Spiritual Care Program, under the supervision of Rabbi Jeffery M. Silberman, director of Spiritual Care, Torrano learned about a program called No One Dies Alone.
Originally developed at hospitals in Oregon and California, the volunteer project seeks to provide compassionate companionship for patients who are dying and have no family or friends or, at least, have no one close by to be with them during their last days and hours. The program trains volunteers to be with people during their final days.
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Inspired, Torrano decided to launch a similar program at Norwalk Hospital and will begin training a group of 16 volunteers Monday. Norwalk Hospital's program is modeled after the original No One Dies Alone.
The only difference is that the Norwalk Hospital volunteers will be trained to help individuals who can and cannot communicate.
"The ultimate goal is to offer support to patients who are within 48 to 72 hours of passing," she explained. "We would like someone to stay with them all the way through until the end."
Torrano said that although the hospital has a dedicated nursing staff and spiritual care providers, it's difficult to be present for everyone.
"We want to bring a sense of comfort when no one else is there for the person," Silberman said in a statement. "Out of whichever faith tradition our volunteers may bring, there is a universal sense of connection that they offer."
Torrano is pleased with the community's response so far. Her future goal is to continue to train volunteers so that there would always be teams of facilitators ready to act as spiritual companions. This would allow people to work in shifts because volunteers are not expected to stand vigil by a patient's bedside for three or four days at a time.
"My hope is that people who are trained will bring it back to their churches and other organizations that they're involved in," Torrano said.
However, because the training calls for small group work, Torrano wanted to limit the number of participants who are trained at one time.
"It's not just lectures," she said.
In five evening sessions, Torrano will discuss how to offer spiritual support through conversation, the importance of reminiscing with the patient and even writing letters to family and friends for them.
She pointed out that sometimes the patient has family members who live far away and physically cannot be with them, although they would like to. Some patients have simply outlived their family members or are estranged from them.
No One Dies Alone was founded by a California nurse who, like Torrano, was emotionally moved when she witnessed one of her patients dying alone.
"It's the saddest thing I've ever seen," Torrano said.
No One Dies Alone is expected to be implemented at the hospital by the beginning of summer.
In her role at Norwalk Hospital, Torrano said that she offers spiritual support and comfort to those who are dying. However, she cannot be there around the clock. Although she is considered to be part of the hospital's staff, Torrano is, in fact, a volunteer. During the day, Torrano works as a financial advisor.
"I do this work for the love of it," Torrano stated.
As volunteer vigil coordinator for No One Dies Alone, Torrano will be responsible for getting calls from the hospital about patients who don't have any family or friends present, assigning volunteers to the patients and overseeing the overall program.
"We know there is a need, but we have to assess exactly what the need is at Norwalk Hospital," Torrano said.
The cost of the training is $50. For information about No One Dies Alone, call the Department of Spiritual Care at Norwalk Hospital at 203-852-2541.