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INTERVIEW: Mary Hogarty On Stony Brook Southampton Hospital's NODA And Compassionate Companions

Nicole Barylski

NODA volunteers. (Courtesy Photo)

Several years ago, Palliative Care Chaplain Mary Hogarty reached out to Stony Brook Southampton Hospital about establishing a No One Dies Alone (NODA) program to ensure those nearing the end-of-life wouldn't have to do so alone. Last year the Hospital added a Compassionate Companions component, with the mission of providing companionship to patients whose family and friends are unable to visit.

On Monday, November 20 a training session will be held where the community can learn more about this vital program.

What inspired the program?

MH: Our particular program, Palliative Care, was established about six years ago. We noticed that some of our people are very elderly and had no one with them when they were in their transitional phase from life to death. I had heard about this program, as did Pat Darcey, so basically what we did was we designed our own training program. Out of NODA we then have a Compassionate Companion program where people sign up for a particular day and visit patients on the floor. NODA stands for no one dies alone.

How many volunteer do you have at the moment?

MH: We have about 20 volunteers at the moment, but things change. Things are in flux; some people leave to go to Florida, some people leave for various reasons. So once a year we do a recruitment program. That's what's happening on November 20th.

What does being a Compassionate Companion entail?

MH: There's training on how to come into a room, how to be with a patient, what to say, what not to say, etc. Say somebody chooses to come in on a Friday, we give them a list of patients or they can also go to the nurses' station and they know how to knock on the door, "I would like to come and visit for a short time. Would that be alright?" It's always up to the patient and the family to decide. Some people do, some people don't.

Is there a specific number of days/hours one has to commit?

MH: Originally, for the NODA, we say a four hour commitment, but we are happy if people can come for two hours. In addition to that, it allows for the families that are here most of the time to go home, take a shower, get a rest, pay bills - do whatever they want to do.

Now is that four hours a week?

MH: No, per day. But, now we're limiting it to whatever they can do.

What will the training session on Monday, November 20 cover?

MH: That covers introductions to the people that are in the program, and that's usually Pat Darcey, who's the Vice President of Patient Services and Chief Nursing Officer, she comes in and does a little overview. We also have the infectious disease person; they come in and do the training on washing hands before they do the visit and after they do the visit. We have training in certain religious customs for some of patients. Also, I work with the volunteer director, she comes in and speaks with each one individually to decide what day, what hours would be good for them. We have two bags filled with a bible, candle, prayer book, poetry - some people are spiritual but non-religious. And just a booklet filled with prayers that would be appropriate.

The training session is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Do people have to attend the entire session?

MH: Yes, they have to.

Are there any qualifications one must possess to become a Compassionate Companion?

MH: No, but there are certain things they cannot do, and that is proselytize, talk about politics. Just be with the patient and or family, and it's something we really stress - no proselytizing.

For those unable to make the training session, how can they learn more?

MH: They can call me, but they have to go through the program.

Is there another training planned?

MH: It depends on how many volunteers come in and how many people we accept. Some people hear what it is and feel that they are just not capable of doing this type of work, because it is holy and sacred work. If I did, it would be in the springtime.

What's the reaction of patients when they receive a visit from a volunteer?

MH: Families are very happy that someone is there with their loved ones, especially during the transitional phase of life into death. To have somebody come in who is not going to talk about medical issues and just wants to listen and talk about their lives.

What's the importance of the program to the East End community?

MH: It is essential. There are so many studies that show it. It's a very important component of spirituality in the overall health service that we extend to our people on the East End, it's so important. Because my definition of someone that's spiritual, we talk about meaning in life and relationships and that's what spirituality means to me and that we keep the focus on the patient and we are more or less active listeners, without infusing any of our preconceived ideas.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

MH: I think that living on the East End, I've been here for 40 years, people are so incredibly generous and we have a wide variety of people who come to volunteer. It's just a beautiful thing.

A free training session will be held on Monday, November 20 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Hospital, located at 240 Meeting House Lane in Southampton. Lunch will be provided.

Stony Brook Southampton Hospital is located at located at 240 Meeting House Lane in Southampton. To learn more about the Hospital's NODA program, call Ms. Hogarty at 631-726-8296.

Nicole is the Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com where she focuses on lifestyle, nightlife, and mixology. She grew up in the Hamptons and currently resides in Water Mill. www.hamptons.com NicoleBarylski NicoleBarylski

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