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Camp Fire recovery continues for end-of-life healthcare workers

JoAn Lighthill at a Halloween party. Lighthill is a resident of Sunshine Assisted Living, which currently the sole assisted living place in Paradise.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
JoAn Lighthill at a Halloween party. Lighthill is a resident of Sunshine Assisted Living, which currently the sole assisted living place in Paradise.

Yesterday marked five years since that deadly Camp Fire.

One group hit particularly hard by trauma from the fire are those that work in palliative care, or care for the elderly and the seriously ill.

Dr. Hyung An is a hospice and palliative care physician at Enloe Health who works with Camp Fire survivors.

An said his patients need a consistent home and living environment to be healthy.

But the twin disasters of the Camp Fire followed by the COVID-19 pandemic have disrupted life in major ways.

“A lot of our patients passed away much quicker than they would have otherwise, if they didn't go through such a traumatic experience of the fire,” An said.

The fire destroyed homes, a hospital and assisted living facilities. An said patients needed new doctors and new living arrangements.

And, as in many other health sectors, palliative care saw massive staff turnover during the pandemic.

Jessica Brown works at Sunshine Assisted Living, which is now Paradise’s sole assisted living place.

Herself a fire survivor, Brown is the only person on the staff who stayed through the last five years.

“I'm a friendly, familiar face. And so they might not know this person. But if I pop in, I'm like, ‘Oh, hi.’ They're like, ‘Oh, I'm so glad to see you,’” Brown said.

An said familiar faces even help with patient outcomes.

“Often we would see patients post pandemic, that their will to live wasn't there anymore, they just kind of would give up,” Brown said. “And often that may be because the caregiver that they were connected with, the familiar faces that they were connected with, weren't there anymore.”

Brown hopes as more people return to Paradise, Sunshine can provide much-needed constancy to more of the community’s elderly and ill.

Jamie is NSPR’s wildfire reporter and Report For America corps member. She covers all things fire, but her main focus is wildfire recovery in the North State. Before NSPR, Jamie was at UCLA, where she dabbled in college radio and briefly worked as podcast editor at the Daily Bruin.
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