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Hospitality-house movement growing

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Greg Kirkpatrick

Greg Kirkpatrick

Todd Cohen

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — In March 2008, SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals opened its 40-bedroom facility for seriously-ill adult patients at UNC Hospitals and their families.

Now, SECU Family House, which in 2010 served nearly 1,400 families, is talking to an architect about doubling the size of the facility, an expansion that could cost $5.5 million.

“We send away more families than we can serve,” says Greg Kirkpatrick, executive director of SECU Family House and a board member for the National Association of Hospital Hospitality Houses. “Most houses I know are sizable and turning families away.”

The challenges facing hospital hospitality houses will be the focus of the national organization’s annual conference and 25th anniversary celebration, to be held Oct. 10-13 at the Sheraton Chapel Hill Hotel.

The conference, hosted by SECU Family House, is expected to attract over 160 people from more than 100 of the organization’s more than 200 members.

North Carolina alone has 18 hospitality houses.

The oldest, Ronald McDonald House in Chapel Hill, has provided over 120,000 nights of lodging to over 25,000 families since it opened in 1988, while the newest will open soon in Winston-Salem and in Pinehurst.

And the Duke Raleigh Hospital Guild is set to launch a campaign to raise $500,000 to renovate a 1930s historic home that would open in fall 2012 as Birdwood, a four-bedroom hospitality house serving families of patients.

Hospitality houses are becoming an “increasingly common phenomenon that hospitals are seeing as important adjuncts to their own provision of health care,” Kirkpatrick says.

While hospitality houses that are part of Ronald McDonald House Charities and serve patients who are children have grown at a steady pace since the first Ronald McDonald House opened in Philadelphia in 1974, Kirkpatrick says, hospitality houses that serve adult patients have grown more slowly, becoming more widespread only in the past five years.

Fueling the recent growth, he says, has been the expense to families, often from out of town, of staying at a hotel or motel while a family member is a patient at a local hospital.

At SECU Family House at UNC Hospitals, 88 percent of visitors live in North Carolina, many of them from elsewhere in the state, while 12 percent live in other states or countries.

Operating with an annual budget of $960,000 and a full-time staff of eight people, SECU Family House charges a sliding fee of $5 to $35 a night for a room, although the average family pays $25 and the cost to the organization is $68.

SECU Family House needs to raise $650,000 a year in gifts from individuals, corporations and foundations to cover the full cost of operations.

The organization, which has a $1.2 million endowment, also finds its costs increasing every year because of the need to replace equipment such as air-conditioning, plumbing and flooring.

“It’s like running a small hotel,” Kirkpatrick says, “but one that pays particular attention to the comforts of home and creature comforts.”

Volunteers provide meals four to five nights a week, and increasingly on weekends, for example, and perform live music two to three times a week.

Speaking at the October conference will be Jim Murray, founder of the first Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia and former general manager of the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League.

His talk will address what hospitality houses mean “to the families who land in a town that’s not terribly close to their home, and they need some nurture and some compassion and a place to call home,” Kirkpatrick says. “The Ronald McDonald movement was the first to understand that need.”

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