An Oasis for Families in Healthcare Crisis

by Maggie Sas and Cynthia Steinwedel
Bradley University
Above: Jeff & Tisha Nelson, with daughters Laura and Emma, called Family House home for four months while daughter Angelina was in the NICU at OSF Children's Hospital of Illinois.

The positive impact of healthcare hospitality houses on caregivers is priceless.

Healthcare hospitality houses are havens for family members who have loved ones in the hospital far from home. They aim to prevent stress pile-up by providing home-like accommodations and amenities for families facing health crises. The benefits to individuals who stay at such houses include reduced stress, an increased sense of normalcy, and support from staff and other guests facing similar situations.

Health Crises and Caregiver Stressors
Negative events, such as the hospitalization of a loved one, may lead to high levels of stress and crisis—especially when the family member must be taken to a hospital in a city away from home. Families who travel to Peoria for medical care face multiple stressors brought on by financial burdens, conflicting emotions, time, sleep, meals and changes in routines due to the travel itself. Caregivers may choose to sleep in the hospital room to avoid some of the financial burdens associated with being away from their home and community. However, studies suggest that the quality of caregivers’ sleep bedside is often compromised due to interruptions and discomfort, resulting in daytime sleepiness, exhaustion and potentially impaired functioning or illness. 

When caregivers’ needs are not met, their well-being may be negatively affected by their loved one’s illness, which may result in their becoming secondary patients themselves. According to research conducted in Peoria by a team from Bradley University and Family House, published in the Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences, some caregivers forego taking care of themselves when tending to their loved ones, to the point of not eating any meals during the day. However, caregivers who chose to stay at Family House, a healthcare hospitality house, reported reduced stress with regard to sleeping arrangements, financial burdens and self-care. 

Safe Haven of Normalcy
The researchers found that the safety concerns and anxiety associated with visiting a new city were soothed by the sense of normalcy guests felt at Family House. One caregiver said she would not have felt comfortable with her young adult daughter (who opted to quit her job to take care of her father), staying at a hotel while she herself had to go back home for her work. They believed separation would have had devastating effects on all of their emotional well-being—and on his ability to recover—because the daughter needed time on-site to learn how to take care of him once released from the hospital. They were thankful for the affordable stay and the donated snacks and meals at Family House, without which she could not have remained in Peoria while the family’s main breadwinner was hospitalized and out of work.

Similarly, many of the interviewed caregivers had to leave their jobs, drive long distances and take care of basic necessities on-the-go. This can become expensive, as one caregiver expressed: “Just the driving, the finances of it… of having to eat out all the time… that becomes a burden on people… Do I come stay with my family and take care of things, put the money in my gas tank to get back and forth, or do I pay the electric bill? Those things do get stressful.”

Family House has been called a “life-saver” and an “oasis” by families in the midst of a health crisis away from home. The availability of meals and snacks in a home-like kitchen, private rooms, laundry facilities, and a peaceful, serene setting contribute to improved personal wellness for caregivers. Guests interviewed also said they appreciated the comfort of being surrounded by those who understood their varying needs for company and conversations or solitude and quiet. 

In addition, caregivers cherished the emotional support they received from (and provided to) other caregivers facing similar difficulties, to whom they referred as a “second family.” Interacting with other caregivers at the dinner table or in the family rooms afforded opportunities for the sharing of stories, emotions and contact information for continued connections: “I’m just happy with the little gestures… It makes me feel not so isolated… when I’m here.” 

Guests also praised the social and emotional support they received from the devoted Family House staff and volunteers who embraced them like family, filling not only physical, but emotional needs.

A Welcoming Refuge
Healthcare hospitality houses offer comfort and a sense of normalcy by providing home-like accommodations and amenities, such as clean rooms and bathrooms, laundry facilities, family rooms, kitchens, and donated meals and snacks. They also allow caregivers to complete important daily tasks we all take for granted. Other support services may include programming to fill emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. 

It is priceless for caregivers to be able to sit back in a comfortable armchair without others waiting for their turn; to have a quiet, sit-down meal without the machines of the hospital room; to do laundry, sort out finances, manage family issues, or grab a healthy snack before riding the shuttle bus back to the hospital. 

Rested. Recharged. Ready to care for their loved ones. In an unknown world, a welcoming place like Family House becomes a refuge for hurting caregivers.

As a community, we can all help prevent caregivers’ physical and emotional exhaustion, malnourishment and illness by taking care of them. We can cook hearty meals, donate snacks, volunteer and open our hearts to those who are visiting our city not for business or pleasure, but because of a healthcare crisis. iBi

Additional results of the study “Caregivers and Healthcare Hospitality Houses: Barriers, Beliefs and Benefits” authored by Magdalena Sas, PhD, CFLE, Bradley University; Cynthia Steinwedel, PhD, RN, Bradley University; Sarah Wagner, Johns Hopkins University; and Laura Blackaby, Family House, are published in the Journal of Family & Consumer Sciences Vol. 110, No. 4, 2018. Call (309) 685-5300 or email lblackaby@familyhousepeoria.org for additional information.

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