Healing Together

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When the North Bay Fires hit a year ago, many Kaiser Permanente employees and physicians lost homes, security, or simply a way of life. Since then, bi-monthly seminars are offering a respite. Pictured, medical assistants Ashley Puccetti and Sara Boden display the art they created in one seminar.

One year ago, Bill and Lynn Dorsey had 10 minutes to grab what they needed before running from their burning home in Santa Rosa’s Coffey Park neighborhood.

Nine hours later they returned to ashes.

Bill, a licensed clinical social worker with Inpatient Palliative Care at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center, said standing where their 4-bedroom home had been was like being in “a burned down forest.” Lynn, an occupational therapist at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, has referred to the inferno they fled as looking like “the apocalypse.”

Bill Dorsey today

It has taken the couple months to file insurance claims and hopscotch among housing. This week saw the pouring of the rebuilt houses’s foundation. But they are still recovering from the shock of losing everything they owned—and nearly their lives.

One thing that’s helped has been the support from Kaiser Permanente. For the past year, a volunteer group has provided bi-monthly resiliency seminars for all 3 hospital shifts, as well as the medical office buildings in the area.

The seminars are also open and free to anyone in the community.

A Grassroots Effort

Chaplain Raymond Dougherty, director of Spiritual Care Services, and Stephen Buehler, a marriage and family therapist and Employee Assistance Program consultant, are 2 of the medical center series organizers.

“There was so much chaos during the fires, and even after that we wanted to help people with self-care,” Buehler said. “We knew it would take a year or more for recovery.”

The first seminar was on meditation, which Bill Dorsey said he has leaned on when he finds himself in stressful situations.

Laine Haynes is a social worker at the medical center. She’s also an artist running the art therapy seminars. She takes participants through guided imagery before providing them with everything from collage materials to pastels and felt pens as they begin to create.

“Our resiliency offerings are about helping people achieve an inner sense of well-being, which is essential to bouncing back faster, even when things are difficult and choices are limited,” she said.

Haynes has seen a lot of amazing artwork over the past year. But what sticks is how people feel.

“Many participants were surprised to find so much solace and meaning in the process of making art.”

Bathing in Song

Other seminars have included mindfulness and song baths, in which participants take turns in a recliner while being sung to by The Threshold Singers.

The group’s director, Venus Maher, said the singers were already volunteering at the Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center when the fires hit. She and about 15 volunteers provide music at the bedside for patients and their families.

They draw on a repertoire of more than 400 songs — originals and classics — “to bring kindness made audible to the bedside.”

After the fires, though, the group saw a wider need for music, leading them to volunteer the sound baths as another ongoing resiliency seminar.

“We are singing songs of comfort, strength, and of letting go,” said Maher, who sang at 2 shelters after the fires and even wrote an original “song of hope” afterward (see below).

Click on the arrow below to hear The Threshold Singers perform “Many Hearts Reaching,” an original song by the group’s director, Venus Maher.

During the sound baths, Maher has seen many tears, as employees and physicians visibly release their stress and “receive something for themselves.”

“Everyone is on their own trajectory of healing,” Buehler added. “Because of the tragedy, we had to connect in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

“The trauma of what happened last October isn’t going away any time soon,” added Bill Dorsey. “Whether you’re a fire survivor or not, being a caregiver and clinician during this time is stressful. I would encourage everybody in the area to try a resiliency seminar.”

Discussion1 Comment

  1. I’ve been thinking a lot about the North Bay community lately — given it has been a year since the terrible fires. I am imagining how therapeutic it would be to be listening to this beautiful and personal song and release the emotions that surround such a tragic and scary event. I cried myself thinking listening to it and imagining everything that the community has been through.

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