Carts at Dartmouth General Hospital provide comfort to patients, clients and families

Friday, March 20, 2015 - 10:10am

By Brooke Stephen

When caring for a loved one who is approaching end of life, small comforts can make a big difference: a cup of coffee or tea, a toothbrush, a blanket and a book to read.  

Providing these comforts is the goal of several nurses at Dartmouth General Hospital (DGH). Cecilia Murphy, registered nurse (RN) on 3 West got the ball rolling after the idea was proposed at a practice council meeting in March 2014. Together with Donna MacArthur, licensed practical nurse (LPN), Angela McFadden, palliative care nurse and Catherine Hamilton LPN, she is working towards having five “comfort carts” to be shared among several units of the hospital, including the Emergency Department. The carts will be available in early to mid spring.

 “Every day, I’m working with someone who is dying and I don’t have anywhere to take the family.” McFadden says, “I don’t have any comfort to give them except emotional support. This is something to show we all care about them even in a hectic environment.”

Comfort carts will fill the void created by the lack of private space for families and a cafeteria that closes early in the evenings and on weekends. In times when a loved one may be nearing end of life, families are reluctant to leave the hospital for any length of time. Having coffee, tea, blankets, toothbrushes, toothpaste, wipes and face wash is an uncomplicated way to make a family’s stay a little more comfortable.

 “Some of these family members have been crying into standard tissues for hours or days and to be able to give them a good package of Kleenex off the cart means the world,” Murphy says.

The carts look like dressers, and will be painted and stenciled in a way that’s personal to each floor, with the goal of having them appear like something you’d find in a patient’s home. Staff members from each unit have participated in decorating the carts. Funding for the carts and the materials they contain came from donations to Palliative Care via the Dartmouth General Hospital Foundation. Shawls for the carts were donated from a local church, and families are able to keep the quilts that were donated by volunteers from another local church.

Looking to the future, staff at DGH will welcome suggestions for new items to add to the carts. The group working on this initiative will consider including any items that would make patients and families feel more comfortable in a difficult time.