Ronald McDonald House Charities Responds to Epidemic Challenges

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by Colleen Steele |

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When my son was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension, we drove from our home in Washington state to California to seek care from a specialist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford (LPCHS). A social worker put us in contact with the Ronald McDonald House (RMH) at Stanford, where we hoped to stay during those long and difficult weeks away from home.

We arrived at RMH tired from traveling and stressed about the impending medical journey. A friendly and empathetic staff person welcomed us, checked us in, and explained the house rules and all the amenities available to residents.

The RMH provides more than just private bedrooms and bathrooms, but what mattered at that moment was just having a safe and comfortable place to wash up and rest. Later, we would come to appreciate all the extras.

They provide a calming environment with the special touches of a home away from home. We were so grateful for their home-cooked meals and a community kitchen where we had the option to prepare our own food. When not at the hospital, we enjoyed the cozy dining room and great room. I was particularly grateful for the laundry facilities. My children loved the play areas and enjoyed the seasonal day camps that were offered.

Being called a “house” is something this organization has well earned, not just for the roof overhead, but also for the feeling of family they provide. When you stay there you become a part of an extended family. The stories and experiences all vary, but each family develops a respect and understanding for what the other might be going through.

During the COVID-19 epidemic, my husband and I have been curious about how the housing arrangements, social structure, and meals at RMH are being handled. Is the house still able to accept patients and their families?

According to Laura Boudreau, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities Bay Area, the answer is yes.

“We are accepting the sickest patients and highest-need families who cannot wait to access lifesaving care at LPCHS. To ensure adequate social distancing, our housing centers are operating at reduced capacity,” Boudreau said in an email.

True to RMH’s giving nature, I was touched to hear that they also house front-line hospital workers in their separate Taube Family Center.

Families caring for a sick child during a life-altering epidemic still have a caring place to stay and remain close to the hospital. Socializing at the house is now limited, but the most needed accommodations are still there, such as meals and a private place to rest and sleep.

Boudreau explained how they are keeping everyone as safe as possible while meeting these needs.

“To reduce the number of people on-site and protect our patients, families, staff, and volunteers, only registered patients and caregivers, and essential frontline direct service staff are permitted at RMH, Stanford,” she said. “Non-essential staff are working remotely. Meals typically funded, prepared, and served by groups in our commercial kitchen are now prepared by staff. Communal dining areas and family kitchens have been closed and staff delivers breakfast, lunch, and dinner directly to families’ rooms. When qualified staff are unavailable to prepare meals, we will purchase catered food from trusted establishments.”

She added that temporary organizational policies, such as extended sick leave and on-call pay, are in place to ensure sick staff members have every incentive to stay home when ill.

Part of their new normal is that all new families and those already residing at the house undergo a health screening every day. Masks are always required.

Cleaning services and housekeeping staff were already adhering to hospital-advised cleaning protocols. To address COVID-19, the biggest change to the house was closing all common spaces and activity rooms and increasing the frequency of disinfecting and cleaning.

“Because of our Stanford House’s flexible design and advanced safety systems, we can segment families by medical need or vulnerability (if necessary) and quarantine immune-suppressed children, such as those awaiting solid organ and stem cell transplants and recovering from cancer treatments,”  Boudreau said.

She also assured me that if stricter social distancing restrictions go into effect, they are prepared.

“We have the tools, staff, expertise, and preparedness to safely deliver meals and provide 24/7 therapeutic support by phone or video,” Boudreau said.

She added that she is grateful for the front-line staff members who have shown up every day since the pandemic began.

“It is because of them, and their willingness to go above and beyond their job descriptions, that we have been able to help families weather this storm and cope with their children’s illnesses,” Boudreau said. “Our frontline staff are the heroes here.”

If you would like to donate to your local RMH chapter, visit


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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