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How refreshing.  The media so often focus on doctor-prescribed death advocates and social outlaws like Kevorkian, that people who do really good, compassionate, and important work with people who are dying rarely receive their due.  That is why I am very happy to see a front page SF Chronicle story today on hospice volunteers, particularly those who give their time and love to the “No One Dies Alone” program.  From “A Friend Until the End” (pay wall up until Monday):

The No One Dies Alone program started in Eugene, Ore., more than a decade ago, and has slowly spread to other hospitals around the country. The Kaiser Santa Clara program started in March 2010 after Donnelly and Becker heard about a similar program at Stanford Hospital.  In each place, the impetus is the same: someone in the hospital — a nurse, a volunteer, a clergyperson — notices a patient on his deathbed, with no friends or family, alone in the chaos of hospital life.  “If someone is dying, and they want someone to be with them, to hold their hand, that just seems like a good thing to do,” said Susan Scott, coordinator of the Stanford program, which began three years ago.

The programs are volunteer- based, although at both Kaiser and Stanford, hospital employees make up a good portion of the volunteers. While there is definitely a spiritual element to the programs, they aren’t religion based. Volunteers undergo hours of training before they’re allowed to be with a patient. They’re told what to expect when a person is dying — how his breathing might change, how his hands and feet might grow cold. And they’re taught how to sit quietly and just be a supportive presence. Volunteers aren’t there to just sit in a chair and occupy space — they’re not supposed to knit or send text messages or read to themselves to pass the time, Becker said. They’re focused on the patient.

What a grand thing.  People matter until the end—and past the end.  Kudos to the volunteers and administrators of No One Dies Alone.  And applause to the San Francisco Chronicle for focusing on those who give their love so selflessly to people they don’t even know.

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