MedStar Washington Hospital Center launched a new program to ensure that terminally ill patients have someone with them as they are dying, even when no relatives or family members are on hand, the hospital announced.
Under the banner of the Not Alone Transition Companion program for dying and critically ill patients, MedStar provides companions to sit with, read to or even just hold the hand of patients for whom family is not present. "It is so good to tell a relative who cannot get to the hospital that their loved one is not alone," Father Anthony Akinlolu, assistant director of Spiritual Care at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, said in the statement. "The comfort and the presence of a companion at the bedside can lessen a patient's anxiety."
This kind of palliative, humane care is part of an emerging conversation in the healthcare community around end-of-life issues. A growing body of research says that palliative care improves patients' and families' emotional well-being--and saves institutions money by eliminating expensive, unnecessary medical interventions that ultimately only prolong suffering and emotional distress.
MedStar Washington's current roster of end-of-life companions is made up of volunteers. Hospital staff and personnel have signed up alongside members of the community to sit with, read to and soothe patients in their final hours.
The program operates as part of MedStar's spiritual care department, amid research that indicates patients' spirituality or religiosity can affect their social health outcomes, FierceHealthcare previously reported. "Doctors themselves do not have to be spiritual or religious, but they should recognize that for many patients, these issues are important, especially at life's end," wrote Robert Klitzman, M.D., a professor of psychiatry and the director of the bioethics program at Columbia University.