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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Long waitlists prompt construction of new Ronald McDonald house

From left: Corina McCrea, Zandra McCrea (in stroller), Liam McCrea and Stephanie Choate holding her son, Cy Choate. Corina McCrea of Polson, Montana, and Stephanie Choate of Naples, Idaho, have become friends after moving into the Ronald McDonald House for their children’s treatment. “We’re here to support each other,” McCrea said. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)
From left: Corina McCrea, Zandra McCrea (in stroller), Liam McCrea and Stephanie Choate holding her son, Cy Choate. Corina McCrea of Polson, Montana, and Stephanie Choate of Naples, Idaho, have become friends after moving into the Ronald McDonald House for their children’s treatment. “We’re here to support each other,” McCrea said. (Nina Culver / The Spokesman-Review)
By Nina Culver For The Spokesman-Review

Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Inland Northwest will more than double the rooms available to families with hospitalized children once a new expansion opens in January 2020.

Ground was broken on the new facility directly across the street from the Ronald McDonald House at 1015 W. Fifth Ave. in early October. The site used to have a parking lot and a building that had served as a hotel, apartment building, doctor’s office and a day care over the years.

When complete, the new building will have a two-level underground parking garage and 34 family guest rooms on three floors. The current house has 22 family guest rooms.

There are 14 families on the facility’s waiting list, and the list has been as long as 25 families.

“We’ve had a waiting list for the last eight years,” said executive director Mike Forness. “We’ve been looking for an expansion site for about 10 years.”

Families who need medical treatment for the children have slept in hotels, in cars and in hospital waiting rooms while waiting for an opening at the Ronald McDonald House, Forness said.

Ronald McDonald House Charities has been doing everything it can to expand. Four overnight sleeping rooms and a family room opened at MultiCare Deaconess Hospital in July. Plans are underway to add six sleeping rooms to a new Hospitality Center under construction at Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene. But it’s still not enough without the new building.

“When that opens there won’t be a waitlist long into the future,” Forness said.

Ten of the 34 new rooms will be larger suites designed for families who need to stay long term so their children can get cancer treatment.

“They stay here six to 12 months,” Forness said. “We put a lot of thought into designing the facility to accommodate the long-term families of children with cancer.”

The Ronald McDonald House had only 14 rooms when it was founded in 1987 and was expanded to 22 rooms in 2001. The facility has provided more than 120,000 nights of lodging to families since it opened.

The new building will have nine kitchens, but one is separate and will be used by families with children who have compromised immune systems. The facility will also include a laundry room on each floor, two movie rooms, a teen room and an indoor-outdoor play area.

Corina McCrea of Polson, Montana, has been at the Ronald McDonald House for two weeks after spending a week on the waitlist. Her 9-month-old daughter, Zandra, is being treated at Shriner’s Hospital for Children for her clubfeet. She said she loves the hospitality of the staff.

“Here I’m right across the street,” she said. “We walk over. It’s a lot better here.”

She also has made friends with some of the other families. “We’re here to support each other,” she said.

One of those new friends is Stephanie Choate from Naples, Idaho. Choate’s 6-year-old daughter, Paisley, was diagnosed with leukemia five weeks ago. She’s been at the Ronald McDonald House for a month and also spent a week on the waitlist before she could get in.

“We stayed at three different hotels,” she said. “When we got in here, what a relief.”

Ronald McDonald House Charities is in the middle of a capital campaign to pay for the expansion project. The goal is to collect $17.5 million, which includes $3 million for an endowment, to cover increased operating costs.

“When we open, our costs will go up, and it will take a while to bump up our donations,” Forness said.

So far the organization has collected $7 million. The Kalispel Tribe has donated $250,000 and the pharmaceutical company AbbVie has donated $5.6 million.

“That is huge,” he said.

Forness said he’s not surprised that the demand for rooms at Ronald McDonald House is growing.

“The Spokane area is a medical hub for a four-state region of the Inland Northwest,” he said. “Families have to bring their children here for specialized services. Pediatric services are growing in Spokane, then you add to that the population is growing.”

He expects the new facility to remain partly empty for the next few years.

“Our goal is to have capacity for the next 20 years,” he said.

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