At Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, parents of hospitalized children can be found spending nights on pull-out sofa beds or on nearby chairs. But when a child is admitted long-term, family members wanting to stay close usually have to find a nearby hotel room or commute 20 miles one way into Phoenix to stay at one of two Ronald McDonald Houses.
"Anytime someone needs hospitalization, especially a child, it is a stress and a strain on the family," said Rhonda Anderson, CEO of Cardon Children’s Medical Center.
Recognizing the need for a house in the East Valley, Ronald McDonald House Charities, which strives to provide low-cost, comfortable environments for families of sick children, plans to open a 10,255 square-foot house by the end of 2013 on Banner Health’s Cardon Children’s Medical Center campus.
"Being able to go to a Ronald McDonald house where [families] can cook some meals, take a deep breath, is an important part of decreasing their stress," Anderson said.
The hospital has been trying to get a Ronald McDonald house nearby for about two years, and now, one of the hospital’s unused buildings, which used to be an inpatient psychiatric unit, could become a ranch-style home for children’s families to use, Anderson said.
All of the hospital’s patient rooms have a pull-out bed, full-length closet and a refrigerator, but continually staying in a patient’s room can be a strain for families, especially those with other chidren, Anderson said.
"You’re in the room 24/7, and sometimes they need a little a bit of a break to be in a different setting," she said.
The house will have 16 bedrooms, a kitchen, a common area, an indoor dining area, two outdoor dining areas, an outdoor play area, and work spaces so that people can connect with their jobs.
"It’s about family and keeping the family together, catering to the families’ needs," said Morris Stein, the principal architect working on the Ronald McDonald House. "It’s not a low-cost hotel; it’s a place to live."
Once the building is renovated, providing more natural light and larger outdoor patios, sponsors will decorate the rooms uniquely, providing creature comforts like televisions and game consoles, said Development Manager Paul Alessio of UEB Builders, the construction company that will do the renovation.
The charity hopes to begin renovations soon, but still has a lot of fundraising to do. The renovation cost is $2.1 million, and so far, Ronald McDonald House Charities and Banner Health Foundation have raised about $1.2 million. However, both the hospital and the charity are confident they will be able to raise the remainig amount, said Nancy Roach, executive director of Ronald McDonald House of Phoenix.
One of the largest sources of funding so far has been the Gila River Indian Community, which donated $500,000 of the current funds. Cardon Children’s Medical Center is one of the closest to the reservation, which only has one small hospital that often refers patients outside of the community, said Cheryl Pablo, Gila River Indian Community program administrator.
Gila River patients can travel from 35 to 50 miles to get to the hospital and don’t have the transportation to travel back and forth, making it necessary to find a place to stay, said Dale Enos, a Gila River Indian Community council member.
Monica Antone, a Gila River Indian Community council member, had a grandson pass away eight months after being born in Tucson. It was the Ronald McDonald house there that allowed her family to stay with the child and his mother while he was hospitalized, she said.
"A lot of our tribal members don’t have a place to go or the finances," Antone said.
When Cardon Children’s Medical Center opened in 2009, Ronald McDonald House had just opened a house at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and part of the decision to build a house at Cardon was being sure they had enough money to build a second house, Roach said.
There is still twice as much need for family housing at Cardon than what will be provided with the new Ronald McDonald House, Roach said.
"If someone called me up today and said, ‘I’ll give you $20 million,’ we would go back to Banner Medical and ask if we could make it a little bigger," Roach said.
When the house is completed, Ronald McDonald Houses, including two in Phoenix, will be able to accommodate 89 families per night, Roach said. Although there is always a greater demand, the charity rarely has to turn people away, and when they do, it’s usually only for one night, Roach said. In the past year, she has had to ask about five families to find other accommodations for a night, she said.
"That’s one of the things I dread doing most in life," Roach said.
However, when there is space, families can stay at the houses as long as they need to, she said. There is a family currently staying at the Phoenix Children’s Hospital that has been there for 381 days, Roach said.
"In addition to giving them a room, we provide a place where they can be with other families that are going through similar situations," Roach said, "where they can be with other families, getting courage and strength to face whatever they need to face."
Families are allowed to stay in Ronald McDonald Houses if they are traveling more than 30 miles to get to the hospital or if they have a child in critical condition. The charity asks guests to pay $15 dollars per night, but does not ask families to pay if they are facing financial hardship.
• Michelle Peirano is a senior studying print and multimedia journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org