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Ronald McDonald Family Room Provides Calm in the Storm for Parents

Ronald McDonald Family Room Ribbon Cutting CeremonyTwenty-seven years ago, Lisa VanZandt’s baby was in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at UAB. Back then, she said, there was a very small waiting room parents could sit in—with nowhere else to go and nothing provided for these parents, enduring what is almost universally a very stressful time for any parent, an experience that could last for days, weeks or even months.

Now, VanZandt said, her experience has come full circle: she is the manager of the Ronald McDonald Family Room on the second floor of the UAB Women & Infants Center, opened in 2018 thanks to UAB employee contributions to the Benevolent Fund. The Family Room is available to families whose children are in the NICU and the Continuing Care Nursery units and is the first of its kind in Birmingham. The Family Room provides space for families in the hospital where they can rest and recharge while staying close by their newborn. It features three private sleeping rooms—each with its own bathroom—a kitchen; a dining area; a common space for eating meals, relaxing and socializing; showers and laundry facilities.

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“The Family Room is a chance to get away from the monitors and get out of the hospital room and take a breath for themselves,” VanZandt said. “We offer food—snacks, breakfast, sandwich stuff. Parents can come down and make a sandwich, which saves them money. It’s a very stressful situation, and often money is tight. [Most parents] hadn’t planned on being here and away from home, and it’s a way for them to have something to eat and not have to worry about what they’ll have for their next meal.”

The Family Room has entertainment items, like an Xbox, a big screen television and a small library. Brandi Duke, nurse manager of the Continuing Care Nursery unit—a step down from the NICU where premature infants work on growing and feeding so they can go home—said the Family Room is essential for parents of these newborns and provides not just meals and facilities but also fun activities and a person to talk to through the stress of the experience. She also said the Family Room makes keepsake buttons with the baby’s picture on it—just one more way the Family Room cares for parents.

“It gets their mind off of what’s going on,” she said. “And, it’s a nice keepsake when they get out of here.”

Inside view of the Ronald McDonald Family Room.The Family Room has supported 2,200 people and counting, Benevolent Fund manager Lisa Higginbotham said.

“What we know is access to a Family Room really positively impacts the experience that parents of babies in intensive care have at a hospital,” she said. “That’s really important to have that place to go and talk to another parent, ask questions and have someone take interest in you and your child. It is really, really important.”

It’s a service VanZandt wishes she had when she was a parent concerned about her newborn so many years ago.

“There’s so much stress when your baby is in the NICU,” she said. “You need to destress. If you don’t take care of yourself physically and mentally, you can’t take care of your baby. The Family Room provides a place to do that, and parents are very, very grateful and appreciative.”