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Sharp HealthCare Provides A House For The Dying

Aired 3/13/12 on KPBS News.

A recent survey reveals the vast majority of Californians would prefer to die at home. But year after year, most people die in hospitals. A program at Sharp HealthCare is trying to change that. It's the only one of its kind in the county.

Evening Edition

Above: A recent survey reveals the vast majority of Californians would prefer to die at home. But year after year, most people die in hospitals. A program at Sharp HealthCare is trying to change that situation for people in San Diego. It's the only one of its kind in the county.

— A recent survey reveals the vast majority of Californians would prefer to die at home. But year after year, most people die in hospitals.

A program at Sharp HealthCare is trying to change that situation for people in San Diego. It's the only one of its kind in the county.

In a quiet, well-groomed part of San Diego’s Del Cerro neighborhood, there’s a green house near the end of a block.

Inside this home, San Diegans who are terminally ill spend their final days.

Hospice house manager Laura Grayson showed off the living room. It has plush couches, hardwood floors and pastel-colored walls.

"We actually had an interior designer come through," Grayson pointed out, "and focus on the color schemes to help create a soft, warm environment."

There’s some home cooking going on in the kitchen. All four patients have their own private room. And there’s plenty of space both inside and in the backyard garden for family members to relax and take a break.

The Sharp hospice home in Del Cerro has four private rooms, a nursing station, and plenty of room for family members to relax and take a break.
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Above: The Sharp hospice home in Del Cerro has four private rooms, a nursing station, and plenty of room for family members to relax and take a break.

Round-the-clock nursing care is also provided at the home. Nurse Stephanie Greco works the day shift.

Greco tries to make sure the patients are comfortable and pain free. She also works a lot with their families.

"I love, you know, being with the families," she said. "Sometimes you pray with them, sometimes you cry a little bit with them. And it’s just a neat experience, it makes you appreciate your own life and your own situation, and take a look at problems in your life differently. And I feel like every day I come to work, I get more of a perspective on my own life, and my own mortality."

Besides nursing care, counselors and social workers are available.

Grayson said the goal is to change the way people experience death.

"We bring it back to something that’s natural and normal. We bring it back to as something that’s a family event, not an individual’s event," Grayson explained. "We bring it back to that place of the spiritual and the emotional connection. Of loving somebody, having them be in your life, facilitating their passing, and being able to honor and remember them."

Sharp Vice President Suzi Johnson helped create the hospice home. She said most Americans don’t feel comfortable talking about death, or about what kind of care they want at the end.

"But in order to change our culture, we have to just begin talking about it," Johnson said. "And this is our experience, not just with Sharp hospice care, but with this specialty of end-of-life care. The more we talk about it, guess what people say: What a relief! Thank you."

That was certainly Efrain Valladolid’s reaction.

Valladolid’s wife Raquel had been battling cervical cancer for the last few years.

When she first got sick, she made her husband promise that she’d never be placed in hospice.

Valladolid said he kept his promise, because he didn’t really know what hospice care was. But a few weeks ago, things got really bad at home.

"During the night, the situation got so hard, for the two of us to handle together, she was in such pain, that she couldn’t take it anymore," Valladolid recalled. "She was just trying to get out of bed, and you know, she was completely out of control. And because of that, so was I."

So Valladolid decided to place his wife in the hospice home.

"And thank God we did. Thank God we did, because the minute we came through that door, the atmosphere changed," Valladolid said, smiling. "Not just for her, but for me, too. She’s been at peace in that bed ever since. Something that she never had before."

Raquel Valladolid passed away at the home in early March.

Laura Grayson said the Sharp hospice house helps people get ready for the end.

"Helping the families get to that place of being able to say, I love you, thank you for all that you’ve shared, thank you for all that you’ve given me, you’ve helped me become the person I am. And then finally to say goodbye," she explained.

Sharp HealthCare has two hospice homes, one in Del Cerro and one in La Mesa. It hopes to build another one in Chula Vista soon.

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