Ronald McDonald House opens expansion

A major expansion of the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill doubles its capacity, making room for many more patients and families as well as innovative support programs.

Ronald McDonald House opens expansion click to enlarge Dignitaries from town and hospital, including UNC Children's chief physician, Dr. Wesley Burks, gathered to cut the ribbon for the expansion of the Ronald McDonald House.

It took 10 years of planning and discussion, more than a year of construction, and a final “all hands” push to make final preparations after a week of torrential rain, but the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill opened a major addition Nov. 13. The occasion was commemorated with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by officials from UNC Children’s and the town of Chapel Hill as well as resident patients and families.

 “It’s not the end of a construction process, but the beginning of a wonderful opportunity to serve more families in need,” says Shelley Day, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill.

The $7.6 million expansion adds 24,000 square feet to the House, including an addition 24 guest rooms, bringing the overall guest room total to 53. Gathering spaces, meeting rooms, play rooms, a welcome center, and dining rooms round out the indoor amenities. Outside, the five new buildings surround a 1-acre courtyard that features play areas for children and quiet places for parents to relax—several gardens, an outdoor dining area, water fountains, sculptures, and benches.

The expansion also adds a groundbreaking pediatric palliative care program, called “Loving Hands,” a first of its kind in North Carolina and the global Ronald McDonald House network.

“There is limited access to hospice for children in many areas of North Carolina,” says Elisabeth Dellon, MD, MPH, who directs UNC Children’s palliative care program. “The Loving Hands program will significantly increase the availability of compassionate, high-quality care in a comfortable and supportive environment so close to the Children's Hospital. We are so fortunate that this pioneering program will soon be available to seriously ill children and their families.”

The need for the expansion was clear. According to Day, the Ronald McDonald House of Chapel Hill served more than 2,200 families in 2014 but had to turn away 800 more due to space constraints. 

The 29 guest rooms in the original building will continue to provide short-term lodging for families who need a place to stay. The expansion offers an additional four short-term guest rooms, but Day says most of the new space will be devoted to long-term suites, including special apartments for patients recovering from bone marrow transplants and those receiving end-of-life care under the “Loving Hands” program. The extra space also enabled the House to add a “Healing Arts” program, which provides patients and their family members opportunities to work in crafts, music, dance, and other activities sponsored by the YMCA, the N.C. Botanical Garden, and Carolina Performing Arts.

Anyone living outside a 35-mile radius of the House who has a child receiving treatment at a local hospital can stay at the House regardless of ability to pay. The average stay has increased from three days when the House opened in 1988, to several weeks—and, in some cases several months—as new treatments and advances in technology at UNC have gradually extended the lengths of stay at the hospital. It costs about $85 a day to house a family; the average family contribution is just $3 a day.

McDonald’s Owner/Operators funded $760,000, or 10 percent, of the expansion project through the Ronald McDonald House Charities of North Carolina. The remainder of the $7.6 million budget was raised through the House’s “Make Room for Hope” campaign.

“The success of this campaign is due entirely to the generosity of donors, both here in Chapel Hill and across the state,” says Day. “And, as a result of their generosity, families who need us will find a home here.”