SCKRMC & Hospice Care of Kansas Begin Bedside Volunteer Program

June 11, 2010

Hospice Care of Kansas has partnered with South Central Kansas Regional Medical Center to create an end of life companion program. The volunteer based service is designed to meet the needs of dying patients through comfort and companionship, while occasionally providing relief to family and friends.

Similar programs are in place in hospitals all across the United States largely due to the efforts of a nurse who has shared her personal story nationally in an effort to promote end of life companionship.

Frank McKinley , Director of Bereavement/Volunteer Services for Hospice Care of Kansas retold the story in a release outlining the program.

"Sandra Clarke was on duty at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Oregon one rainy night several years ago when she had a brief encounter with a man whose name she would later not be able to recall; but a man she could never forget. He was one of seven patients, near death and a DNR (Do Not Resuscitate). During her initial rounds, he asked in a voice which was barely audible, "Will you stay with me?" He was frail, pale, old, and tremulous. Nurse Clarke said, "Sure, as soon as I check my other patients."

Vital signs, passing meds, chart checks, assessments, and bathroom assistance for six other patients took up most of the next hour and a half. When she returned he was dead. She reasoned he was a DNR, no family, very old, end-stage multi-organ disease; now he was gone, and she felt awful. It was okay for him to die, it was his time - but not alone."

From that point on Clarke used that experience and a quote from Mother Teresa, "No one should die alone… each human should die with the sight of a loving face", to promote end of life companionship.

McKinley has used these same convictions as the basis for the Hospice Care of Kansas program.

According to McKinley, "The primary thing which we do for dying patients is provide presence. We are just there. Often nothing more is called for than silent companionship. Your greatest contribution to your dying friend may not be in what you say or do, but in the fact that you cared enough to be present."

While the program does take place at the hospital, no nursing or hands-on-care will be provided by the volunteers. Nursing or Hospice staff provides all patient care. In addition, volunteers are only provided at the request of the patient.

"Our social workers seek a time when they can ask each patient if they would like to have someone with them when the time is short. If the answer is "yes", we will seek to provide companionship for them through our program," McKinley said.

McKinley recognizes that volunteering for a program such as this is not for everyone.

"Accompanying someone as death nears is a sacred responsibility and honor. What we do is more an art than a science. It calls for empathy and observation. It calls for trial and error. What may bring comfort to one may not bring comfort to another. Being a compassionate companion is a special calling," McKinley said.

SCKRMC sees this program as an opportunity to round-out their services by not only offering physical support, but also being able to provide the emotional support needed by those who may not have family or friends by their side at the end of their life.

"Caring for someone in our community in the final stages of their life is a truly great service. This hospice program provides an opportunity for the wonderful folks of our area to reach out and make a difference," said Steve Perkins, SCKRMC's CEO.

Hospice Care of Kansas and the medical center will be providing an informational presentation for those interested in learning more about becoming a volunteer. The meeting will be held in SCKRMC's Health Education Center, located inside the cafeteria, at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, June 29th. Free breakfast will be provided. For more information on the meeting or the program contact Pam Jones, SCKRMC's case manager at 442-2500.