Sentara Norfolk General Hospital Program Assists Patients in the Transition from Life to Death

NODA volunteers

(L-R): (front row): Kelly Davita, Patient Advocate; Naya Parker, Patient Advocate; Chaplain James Hoy, Sentara Heart Hospital; (back row): Chaplain Elaine Lehr, manager of Chaplaincy Services; Yolanda Berthiaume, Chaplain’s office; and Chaplain Pete Parks, Emergency Department.

The idea began after she read an article in a trade newsletter. It was given life when she received a phone call from someone on the palliative care team. That phone call, the first request the Chaplain’s office received, requested that someone sit with a dying patient. And so began Sentara Norfolk General Hospital’s No One Dies Alone program.

Elaine Lehr, manager of chaplaincy services, said that it was something that we needed to do. She engaged the other chaplains and then sent out the call for volunteers.

Chaplain Elaine Lehr-1

Chaplain Elaine Lehr, manager of Chaplaincy Services, Sentara Norfolk General Hospital

“The program started in November 2012. Basically, it is intentional sitting with a patient,” stated Lehr. The No One Dies Alone program provides volunteers to sit with dying patients when their families cannot be there for extended periods. “I was pleasantly surprised by the number of volunteers we got.”

The volunteers, from several different departments at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, volunteer to sit with the dying when family members or others are unable. These volunteers all seem to have at least one thing in common: the belief this service helps not only the patient, but is indeed a gift to each and every volunteer. “It’s not for everybody,” said Chaplain Lehr. “We attach the guidelines for the program and ask each potential volunteer if they can abide by the guidelines.”

It’s “An All of Us Program”

Lehr is quick to tell you that the No One Dies Alone program is not a chaplain’s program. “This is an all of us program. The chaplains organize volunteers to go in . . . it’s a huge team effort. What we’re providing is an intentional presence . . . an assurance that someone is there with the patient,” says Lehr.

When called upon, program volunteers will introduce themselves to the patient, lightly touch the patient’s arm and tune into the Care Channel – an internal station with scenery and music. If a patient is alert, sitting activities are guided by the patient. If the patient is not alert, the volunteer lets the patient know via words or touch that he or she is not alone and the volunteer is still with the person.

“Our employees love the program,” said Lehr. “It’s a way they can give something back to our patients and their families.”

Read the article, Norfolk hospital volunteers sit with dying patients.