Day 7: It Will Make a World of Difference: St. Mary’s Plans Wisconsin’s First Ronald McDonald Family Room

In 1974, a professional football player from the Philadelphia Eagles, his team’s owner, a pediatric oncology physician and a local McDonald’s advertising agency helped launch the St. Patrick’s Day Green Milkshake (dubbed Shamrock Shake) promotion. Funds raised by the promotion helped buy an old house near the hospital, which was opened in 1974 as the first Ronald McDonald House. Their dream of providing a comfortable temporary residence for families of children being treated at the hospital had come true.

In 2012, construction has begun on the third floor of St. Mary’s to build Wisconsin’s first Ronald McDonald Family Room. This new service will be designed as a place of respite for families whose children will be just steps away in the hospital’s pediatrics and neonatal intensive care units. It will serve families from Madison as well as from other areas of south-central Wisconsin who have the most critical needs “when two miles is too far” to be away from their child. This concept is different from the Ronald McDonald House in Madison, which offers long-term stays for out-of-town families with hospitalized family members.

The Family Room will feel more like a home than a hospital, even though it will be housed within the hospital. Among the largest in the country, the Family Room at St. Mary’s will feature four sleep rooms, each with a private bathroom and shower; computers along with free wireless Internet; laundry facilities; a dining area; and a kitchen stocked with food and beverages. Families will be able to retreat to a quiet room for privacy, recharge electronics or ask the volunteer on hand for assistance. All of these amenities – including use of the sleeping rooms – will be provided at no cost to the family.

“The Family Room will really serve as a respite center for families faced with some of the most difficult times of their lives,” says Dr. Frank Byrne, president of St. Mary’s Hospital. “I’ve seen that pained look on a mom or dad’s face too often when I was in practice. So to be able to provide an area for them to catch a quick nap, grab a bite to eat or have a private moment away from the ‘medical’ environment – and still be just steps away from their very sick child – will make a world of difference.”

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