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Seeking a peaceful death amid the flames

By in Press Enterprise on November 2, 2017

By California Healthline

By April Dembosky, KQED/California Healthline

SONOMA >> Even when fire threatened her home in downtown Sonoma, the elderly woman inside who was suffering from late-stage cancer refused to leave.

She had returned home to die in peace, after all. Smoke was everywhere. Her caretaker begged her to heed the mandatory evacuation order.

Another woman on the outskirts of town, who was also home receiving hospice care, said all the young people telling her to get out were just “making hay” over nothing.

“They didn’t want to leave because they wanted to die in their home,” said Karna Dawson, a social worker with Hospice by the Bay. “They didn’t want to leave because they didn’t realize the severity of the problem. They didn’t want to leave because they were stubborn.”

While the worst wildfires in state history were ravaging California’s Wine Country earlier this month, Hospice by the Bay and other hospice providers had to do something that seemingly contradicted their mission: They had to persuade dozens of their terminally ill clients to evacuate the homes they had hoped would serve as quiet, familiar havens in their final days.

“Some people were feeling like if they were going to die, they wanted to die in their house, and [were] not really thinking that through very clearly,” Dawson said. “We’re not talking about dying of your cancer. We’re talking about dying in a fire. And those are two very different deaths.”

When the fires broke out on Oct. 8, nurses and staff with Hospice by the Bay were providing home care, pain management and spiritual counseling to 108 patients in Napa and Sonoma counties. Nearly half of those patients had to be evacuated.

Under federal rules, hospice agencies that receive payment from Medicare, the publicly funded health insurance program for older Americans, are required to have a disaster plan in […]    

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