NJ volunteers comforting end-of-life patients so they don’t die alone
ATLANTIC CITY — No one should die alone.
And a team of more than 70 volunteers with AtlantiCare works to ensure that's never the case for patients within the health system who are nearing their end of life and have no loved ones by their side.
"It's an affirmation that everyone's life really matters," said Absecon resident Rose Ewing, a volunteer — AKA vigilist — who's been bedside for several dying patients since AtlantiCare's No One Dies Alone program launched in 2017.
Ewing, 76, worked in nursing homes and hospitals for many years, and during that time saw "so many" people breathe their last breath with no one holding their hand or watching over them.
"At the end of life, they want to hold on to something. They want somebody there," she said.
When she responds to a NODA activation, Ewing is typically the first on the scene. She'd bring with her a NODA kit to help prepare a sacred space for the patient. The kit includes, among other items, a handmade blanket, battery-operated candles, prayer books, and paintings of open windows (the real windows must stay closed).
"We create a very beautiful setting for the patients," Ewing said.
Volunteers are given end-of-life training before officially joining the program. About a quarter of the volunteers are AtlantiCare staff, one of whom takes the bus from 30 miles away in order stay with a patient who's likely on their last few hours of life.
AtlantiCare alerts the volunteer team when a patient at their Atlantic City or Mainland campuses may have 24 hours or less to live. The Atlantic City campus handles many homeless patients, or folks on vacation from another state or country.
"They are just very empathetic, compassionate people," Christine Droney, with AtlantiCare's Advanced Illness Management Program, said of the NODA volunteers. "They're all in for these patients that have nobody with them when they're dying."