The Ronald McDonald House facilities for families with hospitalized children are impressive — from the 48-room house near the University of Minnesota Medical Center, which has a school to keep hospitalized children and their siblings learning; to the treasure chest of electronic gadgets donated by Minnesota Viking Chad Greenway to the respite room at Gilette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul; to the home-cooked dinners at the house at the Minneapolis hospital operated by Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota.
“It just would make you feel like you weren’t in the crazyland of hospital life all the time,” said Stacey Schumann of Litchfield, who stayed at the Children’s Minneapolis House when her now four-year-old son, Sam, was undergoing heart surgeries.
The latest is a Ronald McDonald family room at Children’s St. Paul hospital, which was unveiled this week and features four bedrooms, a stocked kitchen, laundry and other amenities to support 1,000 families per year.
It’s gone unquestioned that such facilities help families with critically ill children since the first Ronald McDonald House was created in 1974 in Philadelphia with the help of a McDonald’s manager and a Philadelphia Eagles football player whose daughter had leukemia. (Proceeds from the sale of Shamrock Shakes funded the purchase of a house near a hospital there.)
But lately, scientists have been exploring how parent accommodations actually affect pediatric care, and discovering that the Ronald McDonald House’s approach is meaningful.
A San Francisco researcher surveyed 2,081 parents who stayed at a Ronald McDonald House and reported in 2013 that most believed it aided in their children’s recovery. Hispanic parents, in particular, believed it shortened their children’s length of stay. That researcher also put wristband monitors on the parents, and reported last year that parents slept far better in Ronald McDonald Houses than at their kids’ bedsides.
Schumann recalled nights sleeping in Sam’s hospital rooms as well. As comfortable as hospitals try to make guest beds in those rooms, it’s still “kind of like sleeping on a futon in a friends’ college dorm room,” she said. “And you’re next to your child and you have all these monitors beeping.”
Sam’s heart is pumping stronger after five surgeries, and he is playing soccer and biking around the block at home. But there were tense moments in his hospital care, and his mother said the Ronald McDonald House provided family support and sometimes just a quiet place to cry and let out the stress.
“You don’t want to break down when you are up in the hospital room,” she said. “You can just go down there and let it go.”