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How one woman brought free end-of-life care to Port Angeles

Will James
Rose Crumb, who founded the Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County, at her home in Port Angeles

This story originally published in June 2018.

When Rose Crumb first launched a volunteer hospice in Port Angeles, doctors labeled her and her compatriots "the death squad." 

That was 40 years ago, when medical professionals rarely talked with their patients about dying.

Crumb, a nurse at a local hospital, wanted to change that. First, she had to convince those skeptical doctors.

"I said, 'We'll kill 'em with kindness," said Crumb, 92. "And we won the medical community over, but it was a slow process." 

Today, the nonprofit organization Crumb founded is one of the few independent hospices in the U.S., meaning it remains unlicensed by Medicare. It's an arrangement she fought for back when there was a push to regulate all hospices in Washington state. 

Crumb said being unattached to Medicare allows the hospice to remain free and put families, rather than paperwork, at the center of its duties. 

"We wanted the families to be in control of their situation," she said. "So they would have that feeling of independence and we would be just propping them up. There's a certain amount of healing in caring for someone because you've given your all and it helps with the grieving." 

Crumb's organization, the Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County, is an outlier. Today, two-thirds of all U.S. hospices are for-profit entities, part of a growing $16 billion industry.

As the hospice's footprint grew in Port Angeles — it now has 12 paid employees, dozens of volunteers, and serves more than 120 patients at a time — so did Crumb's reputation. 

“Many times, people will still call and make sure, ‘Are you Rose’s hospice?’" said Bette Wood, who manages patient care for the organization. "So, yes, it’s that reputation of a group of people that want to assist someone and their family but not tell them what to do."

And as the years passed at the hospice, Crumb developed an idea about what a good death, and a good life, look like. 

Crumb, who retired from the hospice when she was in her eighties, met with KNKX reporter Will James to talk about the lessons she learned helping hundreds of her neighbors in Port Angeles die. You can listen to that story above. 

Will James is a former KNKX reporter and was part of the special projects team, reporting and producing podcasts such as Outsiders and The Walk Home.