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the entrance to Ronald McDonald House

Ronald McDonald House

Helping families with sick kids stay close

by Anita LeBlanc

Published in August, 2019

When their twins were born eight years ago weighing just three pounds apiece, Misty and Steven Rhodes named them appropriately: Gideon (mighty warrior) and Scarlett (Gone with the Wind's determined heroine).

Since spending their first weeks in the hospital's NICU at the U-M's Mott Children's Hospital, Scarlett has had more than four eye surgeries and fused bones in her elbows repaired there. Gideon, who uses a wheelchair, has had more than seventy surgeries for congenital defects and, most recently, stage four leukemia.

Initially, Misty and Steven slept alternately in a recliner in their kids' hospital rooms before finding respite at Mott House. They estimate that in 2018 alone, they spent 237 days at the facility while Gideon was under care. Even if it was only for a couple of hours, Misty says, "you could turn all the lights off, and know if something is wrong, we're right down the hall ... the nurses knew exactly where we were."

Mott House opened in 2011 on the same floor as Mott's pediatric ICU. It's an offshoot of the freestanding Ronald McDonald House, aka the Main House, which opened in 1985. Both facilities provide lodging for families with children (age twenty-one and younger) receiving care at any Washtenaw County health facility, though the majority are at Mott Hospital. Mott House is for adult caregivers of young patients being treated in ICUs; RMH lodges caregivers and siblings who typically live more than fifty miles away, though executive director Kim Kelly says that's not a "hard-and-fast rule."

The Main House currently has thirty-one rooms, each with two or more beds (additional rollaway beds, air beds, and cribs are also available) and a private bath stocked with toiletries. The three-story house has multiple shared living areas (including a U-M-themed game room), indoor and outdoor play spaces, a room where kids can select new toys, a fully stocked kitchen, and a pantry with snacks and convenience foods. Volunteers prepare an evening meal nearly every day.

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The facility also offers free laundry, parking, and Wi-Fi.

Mott House, on the tenth floor of Mott Hospital, has smaller rooms, each with a twin bed and recliner and a private bath. There is a community kitchen with a Keurig coffee maker, convenience foods, and storage space for caregivers' food. There's also a small laundry and sitting area.

Approximately 1,000-1,200 families come through each year, for an average stay of two weeks. There are four full-time staffers, eighteen part-timers, and more than one hundred volunteers.

Ronald McDonald Charities Global supports licensing and some administrative costs, but almost all of the annual $1.3 million operating budget comes from individual donors, local family foundations, and corporate sponsors. Kelly shares that there isn't enough space for all the families that ask to stay, so they're analyzing a potential major expansion to better serve them.

"It's truly an honor that we get to do this," she says. "It's the best job in the world."     (end of article)

[Originally published in August, 2019.]


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