In La Mesa, a hospital has relaunched a program that brings comfort and support to those who have no one else.
“The mission statement is that no one dies alone,” said Andrew Griffice, clinical chaplain at Sharp Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa.
Griffice and a team of volunteers are ready to comfort patients in their final hours who otherwise would have no one else. He is called the 11th hour program. Griffice said it is designed to provide bedside companionship for the most vulnerable.
“When I think about death as a living person — I work around it eight hours a day, four days a week — but I still fear death,” Griffice said. “And I would be really scared to not only be around death, but to be around death alone.”
Any hospital staff member can refer a patient to the 11th hour program. Griffice said when they get a call they know the patient is not going to get better and are usually on what they call a comfort care plan.
“Which means they’re kind of at the end of their illness journey,” Griffice said. “They’ve been through fights and the different levels of what a disease will do to a body and they’re near the end and they’re actively dying.”
Griffice and her team try to get as much information as possible about a patient before spending time with them, like finding out about their favorite music or books.
“Maybe if they like the Beatles, play a Beatles song,” he said. “If they like poetry, read poetry. Show this act of, ‘I see you, I’m with you and I’m here.’
Sharp Grossmont’s 11th Hour program has just resumed, after a nearly three-year hiatus due to COVID-19.
“It was a disappointment for us because I really think it would have been a good time for our program,” said 11th Hour program volunteer and Sharp physical therapist Tamera Debeliso.
Debeliso has been with the program since 2015 and said it was hard not to be there during the deadly pandemic.
“It was probably when we needed us the most, it seems, because a lot of patients had to die alone,” she said. “Their families couldn’t come to the hospital and the nurses were overwhelmed with a lot of things going on at the time. I wish I could have been there, but it wasn’t an option. Now we’re back, which is good.
Sharp Grossmont officials are looking for more volunteers to join the 11th Hour program. The hope is to have someone available every day of the week and then aim for 24 hours a day. The majority of patients are not able to speak, but they can usually hear.
“I hold their hand and just talk to them and tell them ‘it’s okay,’ they’re safe and in a good environment and being taken care of,” Debeliso said.
Debeliso didn’t think twice when asked to return to the program. For her, work is personal.
“It kind of resonated with me because I witnessed the death of three members of my family,” she said. “The common theme was that we had so many family members back then and someone going by themselves with no one there just didn’t feel right to me.”
Griffice said that over the past two years he has seen heartwarming scenes of nurses and therapists taking time out of busy schedules to spend time with those who are dying alone. He jumped at the chance to help revive the 11th Hour program and hopes more volunteers will help it thrive.
“I want to live in a world where there is some hope and so I think this program is a step towards that – bringing hope back into the world,” Griffice said.
The 11th Hour program falls under the spiritual care department of the hospital.