Ronald McDonald House Responding to COVID-19
The coronavirus pandemic is changing life for individuals, businesses and charities in Pensacola — the latter including Ronald McDonald House at Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital.
Opening in 1984 in a six-bedroom house, the facility has grown to a 26-bedroom complex that opened in 2010. Director of Development Summer Jimmerson says more than 10,000 families have been served.
“We have 26 bedrooms in the house, so anywhere from 55-70 people at any given time,” said Jimmerson, referring to normal conditions.
Three additional rooms are in the hospital, used mostly as a respite area. That area welcomed more than 1,000 visitors last year. Jimmerson says the numbers have changed in the corona-era, mostly over services.
“When the hospital stopped allowing visitors, we have to close the family room up at the hospital; the end of March was when we got the information down from Global Ronald McDonald Houses that they really didn’t feel comfortable with us taking new families in.”
Nobody staying there at that time was kicked out. After they left, arrangements were made with the High Point Hotel — at a reduced rate — to house families who would normally stay at the McDonald House.
“And then we also have the families that are up in the hospital, that we continue to provide food and essentials, toiletries — pretty much anything they need,” Jimmerson said. “It’s a little different, and certainly we don’t have the numbers that we typically do. But we’re still doing everything; it’s just we’re doing it more on the go than we ever have before, but it’s still working.”
The House is under the same capacity rules as other lodging in Florida. Considering the low guest numbers, they’ve been able to implement more stringent cleaning procedures because of COVID-19.
“Once we get everything completely sanitized and scrubbed on the inside, which Global Ronald McDonald House has a lot of guidelines about that, then we can go up to 25% occupancy,” said Jimmerson. “And then we can go up to 50% if that works out after a certain number of days.”
But even when more families are allowed in the house, Jimmerson says its communal sections — kitchen and other gathering places — will remain closed a while longer.
“We have basically four phases, so we’ll have to get to Phase-4, where we’re pretty much completely back to normal before our volunteers and our meal providers will be able to come back into the house,” said Jimmerson. “And that looks to be a little bit of a ways off; but it does make people feel more comfortable that we’re taking all those precautions.”
Those four phases are: cleaning and sanitizing; allowing in a limited number of families, screening, and going up from 50 to 75% occupancy with 14-day intervals between each level; then up to 100%.
“It’s looking like a 28-day waiting period before we can get anywhere near 100 percent,” said Jimmerson. “I think that’s going to go very slowly; everyone wants to be cautious because we have so many families that are with us that their children are in the hospital. So we want to proceed with caution as much as we can.”
Of the families caring for sick kids, the day-to-day challenges facing Ronald McDonald House, and the coronavirus -- the latter has caused the hardest hit on its finances. Jimmerson’s grateful for the community’s generosity, but doesn’t paint such a rosy picture overall.
“Ronald McDonald’s Houses, all non-profits – I mean even businesses during this time,” Jimmerson said. “I’m in fundraising and we’re predicting probably about a 50% drop in our revenue from events that requires people to congregate. But you can’t get around that hit.”
If local COVID rates jump once again and push comes to shove, Jimmerson was asked if Ronald McDonald House could be used for overflow patients.
“I don’t know of any that have opened up to actually take care of patients; and we certainly are not at that point here in Pensacola,” said Jimmerson. “And I don’t see it unless something just incredible happens that we would ever get to the point where the hospitals here are not able to handle what we’re seeing, as far as cases.”
More information on the local Ronald McDonald House is available at www.rmhc-nwfl.org.