Keeping Families Close

Providing Peace at the Ronald McDonald Family Room

Published online: Sep 21, 2020 Articles, East Idaho Health
Viewed 497 time(s)

The Ronald McDonald Family Room (RMFR) has one goal in mind, and that is to keep families together. “Families are stronger when they’re together, and family is what helps sick children cope with their illness. ‘Keeping Families Close,’ that’s our motto!” is what Lori Priest, the Community Engagement Director for the RMFR said when asked about the purpose of this new addition.

For seven years, East Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC) has worked closely with Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) of Idaho to find ways to support families and their sick children. With the expansion of EIRMC’s pediatric programs and Level III NICU, it became necessary to expand RMHC’s programs and bring East Idaho a facility of its own. Lori said, “We have a wonderful partnership with EIRMC. They’ve generously committed over $100K a year in ongoing and in-kind services to RMHC of Idaho by providing the 2600 sq. ft for the Family Room free of charge and right down the hall from the NICU. They also take care of our laundry, janitorial, maintenance, security services and utilities. In turn we provide the families a comfortable and supportive environment within EIRMC where they can stay close to their child.”

The RMFR is located inside the Sunnyside Plaza Building on the south end of EIRMC. On September 5, 2020, they are celebrating a full year of being in service to families of ill or injured children, who are in the PEDS, PICU, NICU, Burn Center or Behavioral Health Center. The Family Room serves families regardless of how far away they live. Whether a family lives in Idaho Falls or has to travel from another state for treatment at EIRMC, the RMFR is there for them, providing them with a “home-away-from-home" only steps from their child’s bedside. 

Over the last year, the RMFR has provided families with a warm meal, a place to sleep and a place to refresh themselves while helping them remain close to support their children. Since its opening, the RMFR has been used by over 400 families and has had over 2700 visits with families by providing bedrooms, meals, gifts, or food boxes. Families are welcome to utilize one of the four sleep rooms, the communal family room, the showers, a hot meal, find support, or just take a minute for themselves. The RMFR is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and families using the facilities have 24/7 access to the sleep rooms.

Many families have experienced the hardships that come along with having a child in the hospital for an extended period of time. These experiences can sometimes be very traumatic and frightening for both the child and the families. Lori knows firsthand what it feels like to be the parent of a child who was hospitalized, “I didn’t stay in a Ronald McDonald House. I lived in a trailer in the parking lot of the hospital for five weeks away from home. I don’t even know how my laundry got done; somebody took care of me. You don’t remember who, but you are always forever grateful because people helped you along that path at a time when you weren’t really focused on anything else but your child. And thank goodness that they are there to help you along.” 

With the new addition of the RMFR, parents and families can remain close to their sick kids and still have a comfortable place to sleep, eat or shower. “It also gives families the opportunity to meet others going through a similar experience. When you’re in this spot, you need to make yourself at home and replenish yourself; and it’s a journey. That is what this place is about.” 

These facilities have impacted the lives of many families who have stayed at the RMFR. Zoe and Nick Empey had only positive things to say about their stay at the RMFR back in January 2020, “The Idaho Falls Ronald McDonald Family Room is amazing because they provided food for us and other NICU parents while we had to focus on our son and be here 24/7.”

Normally, volunteers come in daily to prepare meals and bake goodies for the families. However, due to COVID-19, the RMFR is unable to have volunteers come in and help. “We really miss our volunteers and seeing families coming in to make a meal together,” said Lori. “We look forward to the time when we are able to have them back helping us and serving our families.” 

“The community can help during this time by providing a meal for 10-12 people. This can be done by donating gift cards to local restaurants, dropping off ingredients for RMHC staff to make a meal, purchasing a meal from a local restaurant or making a monetary donation.” Lori said. “Your donation helps keep families together when they need it most.”


Click here to read more of the September issue of Idaho Falls Magazine.

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