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Rose Villa’s Comfort Companions program shows that Rose Villa, located on River Road in Milwaukie, is “truly a community willing to support each other,” especially in their darkest hour, said Melodie Reid, activity and volunteer coordinator.


PHOTO BY ELLEN SPITALERI - Melodie Reid, center, Rose Villas activity and volunteer coordinator, holds a green Comfort Companions bag. She is flanked by Comfort Companions volunteers Lois Weathers, left, and Jeanne Walker.“The goal of the program is that no one dies alone; Comfort Companions vounteers provide comfort and support for residents and their families,” she said.

The all-volunteer program was started in 2013, when a previous social worker at Rose Villa recognized there was a need. Residents who volunteer for the program provide 24/7 care, “at the drop of a hat,” Reid said.

All the volunteers receive training about the dying and grief process, and they are all given a tour of the on-site health center.

“They are trained to know what to do when they come into the room of someone in the final stages of life. They know how to get support from the nursing staff during their shift, and they get some training in how to interact with loved ones and offer support,” Reid said.

Volunteers are given green Comfort Companions bags, with music CDs and a Bible. Nursing staff members give them an information sheet about the resident, including his or her religious preference.

“Because Comfort Companions is based here, and not at an outside agency, volunteers are invested and care about the program, and they are set up to meet the needs of each person,” Reid said.

How it works

When a resident is in the final stages of life, a staff member will contact Reid and she contacts the families of each resident to offer Comfort Companions.

“Maybe [family members] live far away, or maybe they need respite time. It’s up to the families how much time and support they need. We’re willing to do what the family needs,” Reid said.

She gets in touch with two shift leaders, who then call people to see who is willing to come in for a day shift and a night shift. Shift leaders then set up a schedule, which Reid oversees.

“We have about 17 volunteers, who are predominantly residents. We have a couple of people who volunteer in our activity program, and we have one employee who comes in on her time off,” Reid said.

“We get a lot of appreciation from residents’ families. Our Comfort Companions volunteers have generous hearts and understand how important it is to have somebody with you, and there is nothing better than to have someone from our River Villa family,” Reid said.

An honor to serve

Two Comfort Companions volunteers, Jeanne Walker and Lois Weathers, both said the program was special, and that it was an honor to spend time with residents in the final stages of their lives.

Before she came to Rose Villa, Walker lost one of her sons.

“I cared for him for a year and a half, and hospice was so much help. I had the experience of being with him when he died, and I wasn’t afraid, so Comfort Companions was something that I could do,” she said.

Weathers is a retired social worker and said she always has been drawn to the hospice movement. Comfort Companions intrigued her and was within her comfort level.

“At Rose Villa we get to know everybody, and when someone goes to the health center, the friendship doesn’t stop. The end-of-life step in that friendship is very special,” she said.

Weathers added, “There are people we don’t know, and we go in as strangers, but their needs are the same, and it’s still special.”

“As far as helping somebody here, even if I don’t know them, they need to know somebody’s there. If they are beyond talking or hearing, I keep a hand on them, so they know I’m there,” Walker said.

Grateful families

For Weathers, the best thing about the program is “the knowledge that at Rose Villa, no one is going to die alone.”

She described a card she received from the daughter of a resident who died, where the daughter said she could not begin to express her gratitude for volunteers sitting with her mother as “she made the transition.”

“It is such a comfort to the families,” Walker said.

And the volunteers are not alone either, both women pointed out.

“If we are there and something happens to the person, we call the nurse,” Walker said.

“We’re not sitting there for two hours alone; staff is there for backup. But we are the eyes and ears. We are trained how to watch for the difference in breathing patterns. We’re not going in without a certain amount of expertise,” Weathers said.

Comfort Companions is an award-winning program, Reid said. In fact, after its first year in existence, it was named Innovative Program of the Year by LeadingAge Oregon, the state association of not-for-profit, mission-directed organizations, dedicated to providing quality housing, health, community and related services to the elderly and disabled.

Reid added, “We are blessed to have great volunteers to do so much for residents and their families; it is an invaluable service.”

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