GRAND RAPIDS — A West Michigan nonprofit that provides free temporary housing for families of children receiving medical care plans to renovate and expand its Grand Rapids campus after experiencing pandemic-related delays.
Meanwhile, Ronald McDonald House Charities of West Michigan expects growing needs for its services as local health systems scale up their pediatric health care capacity.
RMHC of West Michigan recently announced a $2 million capital campaign to renovate its 17-bedroom facility, as well as add eight more suites, at its campus at 1323 Cedar St. NE.
RMHC of West Michigan Executive Director Ellen Carpenter said the project marks the first expansion in the nonprofit’s 33-year history. During that time, the organization has provided free temporary housing for more than 10,000 families.
However, the organization also has turned away about 5,000 families during that time because of limited space, Carpenter said.
“Turning away families that need a place to stay that are coming from 30 miles away or more is distressing,” Carpenter said.
The organization operated at partial capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic, and resumed full capacity at its Grand Rapids campus in September of 2022. The campus had a wait list nearly every month prior to the pandemic, Carpenter said.
When the campus is at capacity and has to turn away families, nonprofit officials will refer families to a nearby hotel, which offers a discounted rate, Carpenter added.
“With eight new rooms, we’d be prepared if there was something like another flu outbreak,” Carpenter said.
More needs expected
The expansion comes as even more families may need RMHC of West Michigan’s services in the near future, as local health systems pursue pediatric health care projects, Carpenter said. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is partnering with Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services to build an 88-bed pediatric behavioral health center at Pine Rest’s 68th Street campus. DeVos Children’s Hospital also is partnering with Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital to build the state’s first children’s rehabilitation hospital in Grand Rapids under a joint operating agreement.
RMHC of West Michigan serves families from an average of 65 Michigan counties each year, with Muskegon, Mecosta, Marquette, Wexford and Alcona as the top-referring counties. The organization primarily serves families with prematurely born children who are being treated in neonatal intensive care units (NICU) as well as children in pediatric intensive care for cancer and surgery. The organization also serves families with children and teens in psychiatric in-patient facilities as mental health care needs continue to grow.
In 2022, the average family stay at the RMHC of West Michigan facility was 25 days. The longest stay in 2022 was 237 nights.
“A lot of people get transferred here because the care is so specialized,” Carpenter said. “This expansion has been such a long time coming and we were planning to do this sooner, but COVID interrupted our plans, so now we’re ready and we’re excited to serve our families.”
Most Ronald McDonald House charities are located in hospital parking lots, but the West Michigan branch is located on a 5-acre parcel about two miles from Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital near downtown Grand Rapids.
A nearby apartment that had been occupied since RMHC moved onto the Cedar Street property in 1990 is now vacant, allowing for construction of the eight new suites, Carpenter said.
The new suites will contain bedrooms connected to bathrooms, and three of the suites will be ADA-compliant. The new units are intended for shorter stays, and families who need longer accommodations would be moved to the larger facility, Carpenter said.
“This is so much more cost effective than new construction,” Carpenter said. “We feel like it’s a really responsible way to grow. The focus is on serving families and not having to turn people away.”
Holland-based EV Construction serves as the general contractor on the project, and Grand Rapids-based Elevate Studio Inc. serves as the architect.
Nearly 400 local Ronald McDonald House programs operate across the world, and each branch is locally run and supported by local donations.