New facility to serve parents, families in NICU
by Dwain Hebda
Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas and UAMS have teamed up to provide accommodations for families of babies born in the NICU. The Ronald McDonald Family Room at UAMS, a 2,000-square-foot concept, will help ease stress on families while their child receives treatment.
“We have all private rooms in our NICU, which is wonderful, but we don’t allow families to eat in the rooms. We do that for infection prevention and cleanliness reasons,” says Dr. Sara Peeples, UAMS NICU medical director. “But also not allowed are siblings staying in the patient rooms overnight. So, one of the big needs that we have been trying to fill is the ability for families to stay together.”
The new Ronald McDonald Family Room will feature four bedrooms, two of which have multiple beds, to better accommodate the new parents and their other children. In addition, the new facility offers an open concept kitchen providing nightly dinner and snacks, communal living and dining areas with coffee and beverage station, a play area, laundry facilities and a family bathroom with shower.
Peeples says the response to the room has been universally applauded, even in the planning stages.
“We have been working on this project for a long time,” she says. “We announced it formally to the public at our NICU reunion last year in April and the response that we got from the families who were there was people were so excited about having this available. We’re going to be able to do some things that we’ve never been able to do before with these resources.”
“Having families be able to go to a space like that and be able to sit down and have a nice meal and kind of relax a little bit while their child is in the NICU is so important for them. It’s so stressful to have a baby who’s sick. We don’t want them to have to worry about where to sleep and what to eat. We want them just to be able to focus on taking care of their child and their child getting better.”
The UAMS NICU tracked average daily usage at around 62 families for the past six months, with a spike in December to nearly 80 babies. The NICU serves families from all over the state and even from surrounding states, with some babies staying in the unit for 100 days or more.
Even so, it was a surprise to UAMS administration when the idea for the Ronald McDonald Family Room came up as a replacement for an existing bare-bones family area at the hospital.
“We were going ask if [Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas] could help us buy a new refrigerator and they presented to us the idea that they take over that space and renovate it and really be in charge of it and run it,” Peeples says. “We were thrilled with that proposal, it’s not something that we had even thought would be possible. We were going to ask for a little bitty thing and we got a whole new house. It was great.”
Bailey Shaffer, who will manage the room, says RMHC Arkansas will work collaboratively with hospital administration to determine which families will stay in the sleeping rooms, but all families will have use of the room to get a shower, have a meal or just step out of the intense NICU environment.
“The thing I find most impressive is how when you walk past our front door, you forget that you’re in a hospital for however long you need to,” she says. “Nothing about our space reminds you of a hospital and it just gives you that moment to escape and find some peace within yourself and forget that you’re in a hospital for a moment.”
Shaffer has a special connection to the project, as she herself was born a NICU baby in her native Oklahoma.
“This mission speaks to me. I like how we serve the families,” she says. “Unfortunately, they did not have a room like this where I was born, and it would have helped my parents in that time greatly because we lived quite a ways from the hospital that I was in.”
Currently, there are 138 such rooms in the U.S. and 250 worldwide. Fundraising is nearly complete, per the RMHC Arkansas website, with about $90,000 remaining on a total goal of just over $1 million covering construction, furniture, fixtures, equipment and three years of operating expenses.
A grand opening celebration is scheduled for January 31. After that, Shaffer says, it’s down to business.
“Our first families will be moving in on Saturday, February 1st,” she says. “We’re excited about being able to serve the families here at UAMS. There is a great need at the NICU here and we will be able to help serve a lot of families in this time of need.”