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Just Like Home: SECU Family House

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Lisa Northrop Head Shot smSpecial to the Philanthropy Journal

By Lisa Northrop

A recent State Employees Credit Union (SECU) Family House guest donated a kidney to her best friend’s husband last summer. She marveled at the Family House while staff admired her bravery. She said that she felt welcomed and safe, and immediately felt like she was part of the family. “I couldn’t ask for a better place to stay while recovering.”

The Need for Affordable Lodging

LogoWinston-Salem, North Carolina is a medical community with two nationally ranked medical centers and limited affordable lodging for adult patients and their families.

Caregivers often must camp out in hospital waiting rooms, hallways, and in their cars. Hospital personnel observe that many very sick patients are more concerned about their family’s living situation than about their own recovery.

Approximately 400 families of inpatients from both hospitals require lodging each night.  In addition, dozens of outpatients with serious conditions and their caregivers need accommodations.

The Family House helps alleviate this huge need by offering affordable accommodations and support services for adult patients and caregivers traveling to Winston-Salem for health care.

Just Like Home

Image 3 ORIGINALSince opening in 2011, the Family House has served almost 20,000 patients and caregivers from across the country. Guests have traveled from 88 NC counties and 37 states seeking medical care. The 45-bedroom home accommodates families with a fully equipped kitchen and dining room, laundry facilities, comfortable living rooms, outdoor patios, and more.

With the average Winston-Salem hotel rate at $86.67/night, the Family House’s deeply discounted $35/night fee and generous amenities give families with frightening medical bills peace of mind. A donor-funded Family Assistance Fund allows families in financial need to stay for as low as $15/night. Guests request a room at the Family House by having the medical center they are visiting submit a referral on their behalf.

Kathy Carr, Executive Director

Kathy Carr, Executive Director

“Hotels are not only expensive, they’re isolating.” said Kathy Carr, executive director of the Family House. “The Family House helps families meet essential needs, while providing an environment for guests to build their own support network through shared experiences.”

Volunteer groups cook and serve homemade dinners in the evening, giving caregivers and patients the attention they deserve. Therapy dog visits, weekly bingo nights, chaplain visits, and evening piano music are other activities that help guests take their minds off of the hospital.

“The days were very hard on me making decisions about my husband’s care,” said Mary, a past House guest. “My one bright light was walking through the doors, being handed my key, told to go to the kitchen which was always filled with wonderful smells and laughing people – normal – just what I needed. A wonderful night’s sleep, food, a ride to the hospital. I will never be able to express what SECU Family House meant to me on some of the scary times of my life.”

Educational Program for Medical Professional Students

Image 1 ORIGINALDuring the planning stages for the Family House, a physician and faculty member at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center School of Medicine noticed that family caregivers are seldom included in the medical planning and decision-making during hospitalization; yet they are often expected to implement the plans when they return to their homes.

Caregivers, critically important health care providers, are often untrained and ill-prepared to assume the responsibilities of safe and appropriate health care; often intimidated by the unfamiliar surroundings; and seldom empowered to ask for more information or resources to help with caregiving needs.

The Family House Education Program provides this training. Every Tuesday and Thursday, chaplaincy, medical, physician assistant, and nursing students from three educational institutions visit the Family House. They meet directly with caregivers, who share their stories and daily challenges first-hand.  Here, students learn valuable lessons to increase awareness and inspire confidence to advocate for patients and their families. Caregivers feel as though they stepped into an informal counseling session after having a chance to share their feelings.

“When a student leaves the Family House saying ‘I will never walk into a patient’s room with the same eyes again,’ I know the program is making an impression,” says Carr.

Carrying out the Mission:

The Family House thrives on the support of donors and individual and group volunteers. These collaborations keep costs low for families and provide the friendly atmosphere that is not always found at a typical hotel. Donations of food, toiletries, paper products, and cleaning supplies are essential to Family House operations. The kindness of strangers welcoming their out-of-town neighbors, allows the Family House to provide guests with all the comforts of home. Families can stay together when they need it most.


The SECU Family House on the Richard J. Reynolds, III & Marie M. Reynolds Campus is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization with a mission to provide affordable lodging and support services in a caring environment for referred adult patients and/or their caregivers who travel to Winston-Salem, NC,  for medical treatment. Lisa Northrop is director of community relations for the SECU Family House. She helps volunteers create a homelike environment at the Family House.

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