January 18, 2017
It's been five years since we opened our first RMHC Toronto Family Room
Ronald McDonald House Charities (RMHC) Toronto operates seven Family Rooms in five hospitals across the Greater Toronto Area and Northeastern Ontario. Last year, our Family Rooms supported 3,605 families with seriously ill children.
With such a notable and widespread impact, it’s hard to believe that RMHC Toronto opened its first Family Room just five years ago. Our growth has been rapid, and it all stems back to the opening of the first Family Room at Credit Valley Hospital (CVH) on Feb. 13, 2012.
“At that time, Canadian hospitals were starting to recognize Family Rooms as a critical place of support for families who weren’t eligible to stay at our House,” recalls Deborah Holmes, director of programs and operations. Deborah was hired in May 2011 for the new position of Family Rooms Manager. She oversaw the development of the Family Room at CVH, which was designed to serve families with babies in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).
Deborah and volunteers at the Family Room grand opening.
“NICU parents were identified as a demographic that needed our support because so many of them rarely leave the hospital,” says Deborah. “Family Rooms are just down the hall from the unit, so they allow parents to feel okay taking a ‘break,’ which makes them stronger for their child.”
As a former nurse, Deborah had seen firsthand how important it is for parents to rest and recharge when their child is being treated for a serious illness.
“During my time as a paediatric oncology nurse many years ago, when parents needed a quiet space to rest, away from the stress of the unit, literally all we had to offer them was the linen closet. From then on, I knew there had to be something better for parents who weren’t going to leave the bedside for any length of time. Family Rooms are it.”
This was confirmed for Deborah when the Family Room opened at CVH and she saw the impact it had on families.
“When we first opened, I remember one mother whose baby was extremely sick. She was the most agitated woman I’d ever seen, and the nurses asked her to leave the NICU for a little while. She walked into the Family Room and, within moments, I watched her literally destress. She physically relaxed, shared her stress with a volunteer, had a cup of tea, and left a completely different person.
“That’s what a Family Room is: it’s like a warm, fuzzy blanket that just wraps around you.”
Following the grand opening at CVH, other GTA hospitals began to approach RMHC Toronto about building a Family Room in their hospitals. The rest is history, that is still in the making.
As we prepare for the grand opening of our Family Room at Health Sciences North in Sudbury on Feb. 13 – five years, to the date, since we opened our first – Deborah is proud of how far we’ve come.
“Opening seven Family Rooms in five years is an incredible accomplishment. Families tell us all the time how much we’ve impacted their lives, and no words can express how wonderful that feels.”