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Sonoma Valley Hospital unveils a room for the dying

Unlike other hospital rooms, this one is as cozy as a well-kept guest room, with hardwood floors, soft wall colors and homey furniture.

Just outside the window, a bird feeder hanging from a wrought-iron hook hosts fluttering hummingbirds that bask in the Sonoma Valley sun. Outside the tall double windows, the mundane comings and goings of Third Street neighbors play out in timeless scenes.

If you know you're dying, and you can't do it at home, this "home away from home" is a good alternative.

A joint project of Sonoma Valley Hospital and Hospice by the Bay, the hospital's new hospice care room is for terminally ill patients who do not want to die at home or require intensive care they can't get at home in their final days.

Located at the hospital's in-house skilled nursing facility, Room 106 is being touted as the North Bay's first inpatient room dedicated solely for late-stage hospice care. The joint effort is essential because Medicare, the hospital's primary payer, does not cover room and board and hospice care at the same time.

"This is such a gift to our patients and our community because (Hospice by the Bay) is paying for the room and board of these patients, who receive 24-hour-a-day care in addition to all the benefits of the hospice program," said Melissa Evans, the skilled nursing facility's director of nursing.

Both nonprofit organizations, the hospital and the hospice program, are sharing the cost of the one-year pilot project. Hospice by the Bay was able to raise donations to help fund the program though its annual community fundraising gala, individual donors and the community foundation Impact 100.

"No one is going to be making any money on this," said Kitty Whitaker, Hospice by the Bay's chief operating officer. "The beauty of this new program was really two health care organizations coming to the table and sharing a risk. We're sharing a risk that fills the need of actively dying patients in Sonoma County."

Whitaker said the groups have been working together on the project for nine months. The room was launched July 15, though it has yet to be used.

The room is meant to be used by those who have only days to a week to live, Whitaker said, regardless of diagnosis.


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