HUNTINGTON, West Virginia — When a patient is being treated at a hospital, their experience is largely affected by the supporters who are there with them, said Robin Rowe, the director of Patient Experience at St. Mary's Medical Center.
"When their families are well rested and fed, their entire experience is different," said Rowe, who has also been named the director of the new St. Mary's Hospitality House, which will open to guests on Dec. 1.
The house originally opened in 2000 as the Jeffrey George Comfort House and hosted 25,0000 patients and their families until it closed on June 30 of this year.
The closing followed four months of attempts to save the house, after the bank holding the mortgage on its 25-year loan called it. There also was some friction between individuals involved in the house's leadership.
St. Mary's Medical Center will pay off the remaining balance on the $545,000 mortgage for the house and will operate the facility with eight staff members and as many volunteers as can be rounded up.
The house will be open on a 24-7 basis and accept patients and family members of all ages who live outside a 30-mile radius of Huntington.
It will continue to accept families and patients who are being treated at all the area hospitals and medical facilities, not just St. Mary's, Rowe said.
Costs are anywhere from $10 a day to $40 a day, depending on the family's ability to pay and the length of their stay.
Along with its new name and a few new rules, it has a new look.
Rowe said a liquidation firm removed all of the previous furniture from the home prior to its closure over the summer, and that she headed the remodeling of the entire home, with new paint, carpeting and furnishings throughout, as well as a newly remodeled kitchen.
She said the open invitation for babies and children to stay there is a change, as well as the 24-7 hours. She also said there has been some remodeling in one section to create a family suite on the upper floor, as well as a conference room on the bottom floor, which can be used by community groups that want to get involved in helping out at the house and host meetings there about their services.
The house is special to her for a number of reasons, Rowe said. Through her professional work and her own experience as a cancer survivor, Rowe said she knows how important caring for families and friends is to the health and happiness of patients themselves.
Also, the house has a special place in her heart because she knew some of its founders. Years ago, she had met George, a former St. Mary's neurosurgeon who died in a car accident in 2008. Also during that same time frame years ago, she met Mary Carroll and David Dick, parents of Ryan Carroll, who as a child was the inspiration for the house. Now a medical student at Marshall, Ryan Carroll suffered problems with his eyes as a child and was forced to travel out of state for surgeries. His family and George were driving forces behind the Jeffrey George Comfort House being opened in Huntington to help make life easier for families that had to travel for medical care.
It's designed with the family in mind, Rowe said. There are toys and games in the living room, linens available at all times in the hallway closets, and computer stations set up for people who need to wrap up some work or stay in touch with loved ones. St. Mary's Chef Jamison Ugland and volunteers from Lewis Memorial Baptist Church are providing meals that will be kept in the freezer for guests who get back late and want to pop some food in the microwave.
There will be evening meals offered and grab-and-go breakfast items and snacks for the guests. But guests also are free to use the kitchen to cook for themselves and their families.
It's meant to feel like home, Rowe said. There are 14 rooms, which are all alike with the exception of two handicapped accessible rooms on the ground floor and the family suite on the second floor. All are decorated with soothing colors and soft lighting.
"The goal is to make sure they're experiencing things in a positive way and feeling good about what they're doing," Rowe said.
Contributors to the project include the St. Mary's Auxiliary, the St. Mary's Medical Center Foundation, the Huntington Foundation, the Hamer Foundation and many others, including personal contrib utors. Rowe said she's been impressed with the generosity of community members who brought in things like an ironing board and a Kitchen Aid mixer. All she had to do was send an email to St. Mary's employees saying she was collecting travel-sized toiletries for the guests at the house, and little bottles of shampoo and the like came pouring in.
"I always think it's neat when out of something difficult, something beautiful arises," she said.
There's still room for volunteers to give on many levels, Rowe said, whether it's a regular service or just to come in and help take holiday decorations down in January, she said.
Those who would like more information about the house or volunteering can call 304399-7848. The website will go up in upcoming days, and can be found at http://www.st-maryshouse.org .
Information from: The Herald-Dispatch, http://www.herald-dispatch.com
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