Housing Collaborative Helps Families at UVa Children’s Hospital

by Ruth Serven

Charlottesville nonprofits are working together to meet a growing demand for lodging for families of patients at the University of Virginia Children’s Hospital.

Some patients travel for hours to reach Charlottesville and may require weeks or months of care and supervision. Several local nonprofits offer housing for patients and their families, but reservations weren’t made in a unified or efficient process. A collaborative of five nonprofits hopes to streamline the process and help families focus on recovery.

“It’s great to see all the housing partners working together,” said Barbara Stevens, vice chairwoman of the board of The Alyssa House, a nonprofit that provides a house in Belmont to patients and families. “Families don’t really realize the magnitude of issues facing them when a medical issue arises, and so having an option for housing can take a huge weight off.”

The Alyssa House, named in honor of Alyssa Divers, a Palmyra 10-year-old who died in 2012, began offering free housing in January 2017. Since then, six families have stayed at the house, according to Stevens.

Other organizations participating are Lilypads, Open Arms, the Yellow Door Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House.

The Yellow Door Foundation opened its first apartment in February and charges $10 per night, or whatever families can pay.

JoAnn McTague, Yellow Door founder and executive director, said that when she used to flip houses she realized there was a shortage of housing for long-term patients, many of whom are immune-compromised.

“I realized there was just this incredible need,” McTague said. “So, our mission is to help the entire family through this process.”

McTague said she hopes to lease more units in the same apartment complex by the end of the year.

The Ronald McDonald House of Charlottesville, blocks away from the UVa Medical Center, has 19 beds and is often at full capacity, according to Rita Ralston, executive director.

With an organized collaborative, the Medical Center and the Ronald McDonald House now have a process to forward requests to other nonprofits and gather data on the amount of local demand.

Last year, families traveled to the Children’s Hospital from 44 states, staying as long as a year, according to Joyce Thompson, manager of patient and family centered care at the Medical Center.

As the Medical Center continues to grow its transplant and cancer services, it’s likely that more and more children and families will arrive and need specific housing conditions for long periods, Thompson said, and with the collaborative, she said she hopes Charlottesville will be ready to help.

Families coming to the Children’s Hospital that need a place to stay can contact the housing collaborative by calling Ralston at the Ronald McDonald House at (434) 295-1885.

Ralston will then work with the other nonprofits to find the best place for the family to stay based on the family’s needs and the housing available at the time.

Ruth Serven is a reporter for The Daily Progress. Contact her at (434) 978-7254, rserven@dailyprogress.com or @RuthServen on Twitter

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