Holston Valley Ensures No Patient Dies Alone, Partners With Community To Provide Comfort In Final Moments
After a long day at work, many employees would prefer to go
home instead of spending a lot of extra, unpaid time at the office. But
recently, that’s exactly what Holston
Valley Medical Center’s Billie Skelton did, leaving an indelible
mark on a patient in the process.
Skelton, a switchboard operator, received a call from the
hospital’s cardiac unit regarding a patient in distress, with failing vitals
and no family present. Holston Valley’s on-call chaplain visited the patient
intermittently, but, due to additional pressing needs at the hospital, was
unable to stay nonstop.
The man’s situation weighed on Skelton’s mind. Once she
finished her shift, she immediately went to his side. She stayed into the
night, and nursing staff noticed a marked improvement in the patient’s
breathing and heart rate, as well as less agitation and suffering.
“Billie’s story represents an extraordinary measure taken in
an all-too-ordinary situation,” said Virginia Frank, Holston Valley’s
president. “The end of one’s life is a difficult thing to consider, even when a
person is surrounded by loved ones. It’s infinitely harder when there’s no one
there to provide comfort and support.
“Her actions are a perfect example of the Healing
Environment philosophy that permeates Wellmont Health System.”
In that spirit, several Holston Valley Shepherds – empowered
co-workers who suggest and help implement operational changes in the hospital
for the benefit of patients and staff – set to work on a project to ensure no
patient would ever die alone.
Jason Searcy, Holston Valley’s director of oncology
services, was one of the Shepherds who facilitated the program. The team
developed the initiative with help from the hospital’s volunteer services,
pastoral care, hospice, switchboard and oncology departments but relied on
volunteers from the community to put the plan into action.
“The Shepherds and staff can’t take full credit for this,” Searcy
said. “Once we started the program, we saw a tremendous turnout from the
community. They really made this happen.”
Each team is assigned a month of duty, during which time its
members take turns carrying a special pager. When nursing staff at Holston
Valley identify a solitary patient near the end of life, a message is sent to
“The response from the community has been overwhelming,”
Searcy said. “Churches, businesses, you name it, have formed teams to serve on
this project. It’s really touched people’s hearts.”
One of the teams, consisting of co-workers from Holston
Medical Group, was the first to receive a call. The team members rotated at the
patient’s bedside for two days before Kim Rogers took the final watch.
“The team’s presence made all the difference,” Searcy said.
“Even though patients at the end of life typically aren’t responsive, the
volunteers from Holston Medical Group took it upon themselves to read to him,
talk to him and comfort him. Sometimes, simply being present for a patient is
all we can ask for, and it can mean the world.”
Since then, the project, dubbed Shepherds Watch, has been
activated several times. The initiative is currently limited to Holston
Valley’s W-3 unit, but Frank and Searcy plan to expand it throughout the
“The volunteers working on this project are such special
spirits, and we won’t restrict them to one area for long,” Frank said. “This
project is the perfect continuation of the compassionate, innovative care our
co-workers, like Billie, have always delivered.”
Volunteers interested in helping with Shepherds Watch should
contact Holston Valley’s volunteer services department at 423-224-6041. Before
serving in their first rotation, all Shepherds Watch volunteers are required to
participate in a training session.
To learn more about the Healing Environment, please visit www.wellmont.org.