by Joanne Faryon, KPBS-inewsource Investigations Desk
It was quiet and peaceful, the way LC Sallis had hoped he’d die.
At 10 minutes before nine o’clock Sunday evening, with Betty, his wife of 66 years holding him, LC Sallis took his final breath.
“It was a beautiful ending to a beautiful life,” Betty said.
LC, 89, had stage four heart disease and had been receiving hospice care for the past 13 months. He was among a growing number of people choosing to die at home, forfeiting conventional “curative” treatment in exchange for pain management and comfort care. The KPBS and inewsource Investigations Desk had profiled LC in a series on end of life care earlier this month.
Medicare, which pays for the majority of hospice patients’ care, has been investigating San Diego Hospice for two years, focusing on patients who may not have been eligible for the specialized care or, if they were, may not have had their prognoses properly documented. To be eligible for hospice, a patient must have a terminal illness, which means less than six months to live.
Last week, San Diego Hospice announced it was shutting down because it may have to pay back Medicare tens of millions of dollars for ineligible patient care. Compounding the problem was Medicare’s lack of communication about the audit, according San Diego Hospice President and CEO Kathleen Pacurar.
LC was receiving care from Sharp Hospice. Despite his serious heart condition, LC had managed to avoid the emergency room for the past two years, spending his final months at home with Betty.
Last year, LC had to move out of the queen bed he’d shared with Betty for decades because the fluid in his lungs forced him to sleep upright in a hospital bed instead. And even though the hospital bed was just a few feet from where Betty slept, she lamented only weeks ago how much she missed having LC next to her, waking up to a hug or kiss in the night.
Sunday evening, in the hour before his death, Betty sat on the edge of the hospital bed, leaned over LC, and hugged him and kissed him.
“It was quiet and peaceful,” she said.