Friday, November 09, 2001

New facility a 'blessing'

Families already moved in; grand opening set for today

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        They are a mosaic of the world's many corners, these guests of the newly opened Ronald McDonald House for families of seriously ill children.

        Lubbock, Texas. San Juan, Puerto Rico. Mesa, Ariz. Lexington, Ky.. Middletown, Ohio. Trinidad. Belize City.

[photo] The new 56,000-square-foot Ronald McDonald House in Avondale has 48 guest rooms.
(Tony Jones photos)
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        But for now, they all live in the Avondale neighborhood of Cincinnati, a short walk from Children's Hospital Medical Center.

        There are 207 such houses around the world, but Cincinnati's new facility is the largest in the United States serving one hospital, with room for 48 families.

        A grand opening is set for today. About 1,500 invitations went out.

        “To us, it's just a blessing,” Laura Luker of Lubbock, Texas, said Wednesday.

        Her daughter Brooke, 6, underwent surgery by Dr. Robin Cotton at Children's for a narrowing of the airway.

        “It's one less thing to worry about,” Ms. Luker said. “It's so lovely. And I would have gotten a hotel, which is extremely expensive, or slept in a chair at the hospital.”

        She's typical in many respects. She knows no one in Cincinnati, has no car to get around in, and her expected nine-week stay is about a week longer than average for Ronald McDonald guests. Another daughter, 11, is staying with family in Lubbock.

   What: Ronald McDonald House opening ceremony.
   Where: 350 Erkenbrecher Ave., at Burnet Avenue, Avondale.
   When: Today.
   Amenities: The facility has 24-hour staffing (six full-time, plus 200 volunteers), a cafeteria, living area and a small children's theater where local groups will perform.
   Cost to build: $9 million, including $6.2 million for building construction and $1 million for land acquisition.
   Nightly cost to families: $15, based on ability to pay (2000 average was $5.50)
   2000 revenue from fund raising: 92 percent
   Source: Ronald McDonald House Charities
        Ms. Luker and Brooke, who was placed back in intensive care earlier this week but returned to Ronald McDonald, have walked to the Cincinnati Zoo four times so far. And although Ms. Luker was told of area street crime, it's not a significant concern.

        “I see a lot of activity in the evening out the window, but I call security when I want to leave the hospital and they send a little bus or a security officer drives me, so we don't have to have that fear.”

        Making the short daytime walk to Children's possible was a five-year journey through land acquisition, fund-raising and design planning. Construction began 16 months ago.

        “It's interesting because the whole country has awakened, I think, to people helping each other,” said Executive Director Jennifer Goodin. “And for the people here, it's the most stressful time in a parent's life.”

[photo] Kimberly Hill ties the shoes of her twin sons Nickolas, 10 (center), and Evan before walking over to the Children's Hospital Medical Center from the new Ronald McDonald House.
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        The facility at the corner of Burnet and Erkenbrecher avenues has 20 families, which was the capacity of the old facility, located at 229 Erkenbrecher. The first wave of families moved in two weeks ago.

        About a quarter of the children whose families stay here are, like Brooke Luker, being treated for trachea procedures and airway reconstruction, Ms. Goodin said.

        Transplant recipients also are common, because close monitoring is required for weeks after hospitalization.

        “The value of Ronald McDonald to Children's Hospital is very significant,” said Dee Ellingwood, the hospital's senior vice president for planning and business development. “They have been, for the last several years, capacity constrained. They've had to turn away more families than they've helped.”

        "It's always,” he said, “been just an amazing resource.”

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