Volunteer to Make Sure No One Dies Alone

The No One Dies Alone Program at University of Utah Health (UUH) is a branch of the national No One Dies Alone (NODA) organization designed by Sandra Clark with the Peace Health Organization. The goal of the NODA program is to provide compassionate companionship for patients alone at the end of their lives.

On average two to three patients die without accompaniment monthly at University of Utah Hospital. Doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff attempt to fill this void but have neither the time nor the resources to provide this service. This is where the NODA program is relevant. NODA provides the reassuring presence of a volunteer companion to patients transitioning from life to death who would otherwise pass without the caring and comfort of another human being.

University of Utah Health is proud to provide a program that offers companionship to our patients, providing one of the most valuable human gifts: a dignified death.

Program History

The University of Utah Health NODA chapter began in 2017 through the tireless efforts of Tyler Montgomery and Dr. Gretchen Case. This team initially partnered with the Imagine Perfect Care initiative at UUH which provided seed grant enabling the program founders to be trained in end of life companionship skills, as well as establishing an organizational template for the program. Since then, the NODA administrative team has constructed a volunteer training curriculum specific to the UUH policies and procedures that have been approved by the UUH administration.

Currently, the UUH NODA program has served over 30 patients and maintains a core group of over 60 amazing and devoted volunteers. The NODA program is generously funded by Imagine Perfect Care, The Keener Foundation, and the University Hospital Foundation.

Our Team

Heather Smith

NODA Co-Director

Heather Smith is an LCSW for the palliative care team at University of Utah Health. She has been involved with the NODA program since February of 2017 and was an initial member of the administrative team. Heather supports the NODA program by conducting staff and volunteer trainings, and clinical protocol improvement. Heather is a longstanding social worker passionate about end-of-life care, social work, and end-of-life conversations.

Brian Zenger

NODA Co-Director

Brian is an MD/PhD student in the department of Biomedical Engineering and School of Medicine. Brian has been involved with the NODA program since May 2017 and attended one of the first trainings for the program. Brian assists and supports the NODA program through a variety of functions including funding, volunteer trainings, publicity, and promotion. Brian is a developing physician and is passionate about compassionate care, narrative medicine, and end-of-life decision making.

Nichole Robinson

NODA Executive Board Member, Huntsman Cancer Representative

Nichole Robinson is a LCSW at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital at University of Utah Health. She has been involved with the NODA program since June 2017 and mediated the expansion of the NODA program to the Huntsman Cancer Hospital. Nichole assists with developing clinical protocols, NODA promotion, and volunteer and staff trainings. Nichole is an important member of the Huntsman Social Work team and passionate about end-of-life care involving cancer patients.

Lorie Nielson

NODA Executive Board Member, Spiritual Care Representative

Reverend Lorie Nielson is a board certified clinical chaplain and has been involved with the NODA program since November 2017. She is a member of the University of Utah Health Palliative Care Team to help and support patients and family members with their spiritual needs. Lorie serves with the NODA program to assess and coordinate patient vigils throughout the hospital and as a volunteer trainer. Lorie is passionate about end-of-life care, patient healing, and health care provider education.

Erin Price

NODA Executive Board Member, NODA Volunteer Coordinator

Erin Price is a PhD candidate in the Department of Chemistry. Erin got involved with the NODA program in December 2017 and assists in managing and supporting volunteers throughout the training and onboarding process. Erin is passionate about end-of-life care, decision making, and many other social justice issues.

Advisory Board Members

  • Dustin Banks
  • Dr. Margaret Battin
  • Dr. Anna Beck
  • Orley Bills III, LCSW
  • Dr. Sam Brown
  • Dr. Gretchen Case
  • Victoria Davison
  • Patricia Galbraith
  • Dr. Dominic Moore
  • Stacy Schulof
  • Dr. Jen-Yu Wei

Frequently Asked Questions

Questions About Volunteering:

How old do you need to be to volunteer with NODA?

The minimum age to volunteer for the NODA program is 18 years old. However, there are other volunteer opportunities at University of Utah Health that can work with eager people younger than 18 years old. Please contact the volunteer office for more information.

What is the expected NODA volunteer commitment?

We are asking for volunteers to serve during one vigil per month for one year and participate in quarterly volunteer debriefings. You take a maximum three hour shift during a vigil (i.e. you sit with a patient for a maximum three hours at a time) and we typically hold two to three vigils a month.

Are NODA volunteer shifts scheduled?

Because the dying process can be variable and sudden, NODA volunteers are not scheduled for specific times each week or month to sit with patients. NODA volunteers are “on call” and can sign up for three hour shifts to sit with patients as a vigil is activated and the volunteer shift is available.

What are the training requirements to become a NODA volunteer?

We require all NODA volunteers to attend a three hour NODA and University of Utah Health training.

How do I contact the NODA program with questions, concerns, or to sign up?

Please reach out to noda@hsc.utah.edu for any further questions or concerns

Questions About Patient Care:

What is palliative care and how is NODA involved?

Palliative care provides individuals facing a life-threatening illness with relief and a healing, rather than curing, experience before their passing. A natural question that arises is "How are healing and curing different?" Curing seeks to rid an individual of illness or disease. Healing, on the other hand, is intended to provide relief from pain, a sense of companionship and connection, and an acceptance of life, to include death and dying.

Rather than solely focusing on the physical aspects of care, palliative medicine incorporates emotional, mental, and spiritual measures. Ultimately, our goal at NODA is to support palliative care and provide comfort to individuals before they pass.

What are the signs that an individual undergoing palliative care is in pain or discomfort?

Being able to assess an individual's pain or discomfort can rely on the level of communication they have. In the event that the individual can communicate, questions regarding their comfort and potential ways to relieve or manage their pain are appropriate.

Even simple questions about the lighting setting or their position in bed can lead to increased comfort for individuals in palliative care. In the case that someone is unable to communicate, there are some nonverbal signs that indicate they are experiencing pain. Such signs include grimacing or frowning, restlessness or shifting in bed, or even changes in temperature and breathing pattern.

How long does the dying process normally take?

In truth, the length of the dying process depends on each person; it may be weeks, days, or hours. An important point in palliative care is that the death and dying process is indeed a process, one that is unique to each individual.

The events and duration of such that occur during each individual’s journey are never the same. However, there are some signs to potentially expect when death is near. These signs include changes in skin color such as going pale or bruising, decreases in appetite and continence, decreases in body temperature, and changes in breathing patterns. Although only some of these may occur, they are all considered normal aspects of the dying process.

What are some of the challenges that those performing palliative care face?

There are mental and emotional impacts when providing care to an individual facing the end of their life, whether it be as a friend, family member, or professional medical team member. Due to the intense and emotional commitment that comes along with palliative care, what is referred to as "compassion fatigue" or "compassion burnout" is common to occur.

Compassion fatigue refers to the cumulative impact from consistently caring for individuals undergoing suffering or the dying process. Signs of compassion fatigue in caregivers include anxiety, difficulty sleeping, increased isolation or distance from others, and irritability. However, resources do exist to effectively cope with compassion fatigue. Having emotional boundaries, particularly in the professional setting, with individuals undergoing suffering has proven to help prevent the development of burnout.

Additionally, incorporating self-care through exercising, spending time with friends and family, openly discussing your emotions with loved ones, journaling, spiritual practices, etc. has been shown to help individuals combat the effects of compassion fatigue.

The End of Her Days
One writer's cautionary story about how his mother-in-law's stroke and fight to die on her own terms, taught him the importance–and limitations–of Advance Directives.

Read Stephen's Story

Vigil Activation

How do you initiate a vigil?

Healthcare providers for University of Utah Health can find vigil activation information on the institution’s internal website. (Staff access only.)