January 22nd, 2010

Great River Hospice has a new group of volunteers who are specially trained to provide extra comfort and care during the last hours of patients' lives. Vigil volunteers sit at the bedsides of patients for approximately 24 to 48 hours and provide companionship and comfort, such as soothing aromatherapy, reading aloud or playing soft music.

"Being alone is often what people fear most," said Chris Oleson, director, Great River Hospice. "Patients fear being alone as they draw their last breaths. And family members fear being alone after that experience takes place."

The possibility of being alone at end of life is more likely today because families are spread out across the county, Oleson said. Sometimes the dying person has very few relatives living nearby. Besides providing meaningful presence to patients, vigil volunteers also can support and guide family members who are with them.

Great River Hospice reached out to its volunteers with the opportunity to complete training for an even deeper level of care. Thirty-six volunteers responded. Vigil volunteers serve patients in their homes, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. Patients, family members or caregivers can request a vigil volunteer.

"The vigil volunteer program is another unique gift Great River Hospice offers patients at end of life and their families. We already have seen how the dedication of vigil volunteers can reduce the burden associated with and increase the understanding of the end-of-life process," Oleson said.

For more information about Great River Hospice, please call (319) 768-3350, (319) 986-6325 or toll-free (877) 404-4766.