Brittney Crowell used to think that a Ronald McDonald House was a playhouse for children. However after her twins were born with a rare blood disorder, she learned how important a Ronald McDonald House can be for a family struggling with a long-term medical condition.
After spending 10 months at the Gatewood House run by Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities after her daughters had bone marrow transplants, Crowell has a newfound respect for the haven she found there.
Had it not been for the facility, Crowell said she would have had to commute from Macon—her home at the time—to Atlanta each day.
Begun in 1974 in Philadelphia, Ronald McDonald Houses provide a place for families to stay close by their hospitalized children or with their children who need ongoing hospital care. Housing is provided at little to no cost.
However, across the nation, many Ronald McDonald Houses are scrambling to serve a growing heavy demand. According to the Associated Press, the facilities are experiencing a worldwide trend “with many Ronald McDonald Houses filling each night and having waiting lists.” In a recent article, the AP reported “As children are diagnosed earlier, treatments and survival rates improve, more hospitals expand and the need grows…”
The international nonprofit Ronald McDonald House Charities has 313 Ronald McDonald Houses in 31 countries, including 175 in the United States, plus 176 Ronald McDonald Family Rooms in 19 countries and 44 Ronald McDonald Care Mobiles in eight countries, the AP reports. Spokeswoman Clara Carrier said the organization and local chapters plan to grow 29 percent by the end of 2015 by adding 46 houses, 68 family rooms and 14 more mobile clinics in response to health care trends and demand, according to the AP article.
In metro Atlanta, two Ronald McDonald houses are attempting to keep pace with the growing demand.
The newest of the two homes is the Gatewood House, a 50-bedroom, 60,000-square-foot facility located near Emory University and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston. It opened in 2008 to replace the original Ronald McDonald House on Houston Mill Road.
The other home is located on Peachtree Dunwoody Road in Sandy Springs near Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite. This 11-bedroom house has taken in more than 7,000 families in its 17-year history.
Last year, the Gatewood House served 1,569 families and the Peachtree Dunwoody House served 323 families.
According to Linda M. Morris, president and CEO of Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities (ARMHC), the homes have kept pace with growth fairly well and rarely have had to resort to waiting lists. She noted the Gatewood house was full about a dozen nights in 2011.
However the Peachtree Dunwoody House, the older of the two homes, has limited ability to serve the diverse needs of its medically fragile population. The house has only 11 bedrooms, no private bathrooms and no suites for children who need to be isolated. The home doesn’t have an elevator and is not fully accessible.
Plans are in the works now to replace the Peachtree Dunwoody facility with a 31-bedroom residence complete with suites, an elevator, private bathrooms and larger dining quarters. The project is currently in the design phase and a capital campaign to finance it has yet to be launched. However, Morris said if all goes as planned, fundraising will begin later this year, with the house taking about two years to build.
“Right now it’s up to the hospital to find housing for those folks,” said Morris, who has been at the helm of ARMHC for the past 17 years. “There is need there.”
Atlanta Ronald McDonald House Charities relies on the social work staffs at the pediatric hospitals to determine who needs housing.
At the Atlanta Ronald McDonald facilities, guests are asked to pay $20 per night for regular rooms and $30 per night for suites. However, Morris added that no one is turned away for financial reasons.
“It’s just been an incredible experience for me personally to see what a difference it can make,” said Morris. “What makes it really work for the families is the camaraderie with the other families going through the same situation…being together in a place where they feel comfortable and protected.”
Crowell described her stay as ideal, noting that she and her daughters were housed in the transplant wing and had plenty of privacy, which made the experience feel more like home.
Crowell, who was living in Macon when her twins were born, has since moved to Stone Mountain to be closer to Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston where her daughters, now 2, still receive treatment. She speaks highly of Gatewood and said she and family members seek ways to financially support Ronald McDonald houses, such as contributing to the change drop boxes in McDonald’s restaurants. Crowell said she now gathers her recyclable aluminum cans and plastic bottles to deliver to the Gatewood House, which has a recycling program that generates cash for the house.