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In Spite Of Pandemic, Magic Of Christmas Still Possible At Ronald McDonald House

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RMHC Idaho
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Just weeks after opening a new 47-room Ronald McDonald House in Boise, the pandemic hit. But the need for a home away from home for children and their families, in need of accute care at Treasure Valley hospitals, has never been greater. And with Christmas only a few days away, the core staff at Ronald McDonald House Charities are doing their best to make sure that some part of the holiday season is still merry and bright.

"Nobody really wants to be at the Ronald McDonald House," said executive director Mindy Plumlee. "But when they are here over the holidays, we want to make it memorable."

Plumlee visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the home's intense safety protocols, their wish lists for the kids, and how, even in the shadow of COVID-19, area hospitals are seeing "a fair number of premature births and births with complications."

"We want to make the child and brothers and sisters feel cared-for, feel loved, feel supported, and really make it that “It gets you in your heart” feeling of Christmas.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It's Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. The Ronald McDonald House is an extraordinary experience. Most of us are blessed in that we have not needed the services of the Ronald McDonald House. That said, it's fair to say that there has not been a day that we don't thank our stars that the home is there. And then there is the year 2020: a year unlike any other. So, we're going to talk about that and the holiday season; we're going to check in with Mindy Plumlee, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House in Boise. Mindy, good morning.

MINDY PLUMLEE: Good morning, George.

PRENTICE: It was January of this year that you opened a new 47-room home. But then, Mindy… tell us about all of the safety protocols that you've had to put in place due to the pandemic.

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Credit Ronald McDonald House Charities

PLUMLEE: Yes, we started the year on a really exciting note, finally able to have room for every family that needed a place to stay when they had to travel to get medical care for their kiddos. And about five weeks after we opened, we found ourselves, along with the rest of the world, facing the reality of COVID. Of course, the families that come to the Ronald McDonald House… their children are already facing incredible medical situations, a lot of immune-compromised kiddos… so, a lot of very necessary safeguards for health and safety. And then you kind of toss COVID on top of that. It made it challenging. So, in addition to ramping up our already pretty stringent protocols, we really were forced to limit the number of people that we had coming into the space, to ensure all the safety for the families that stay with us. So, our volunteers are really about half of our workforce - key for everything we do. We were not able to have them on a day-to-day basis inside the house. And that was challenging and really needing to work in very-close collaboration with our partner hospitals, both St. Alphonsus and St. Luke's Children's, to ensure that the environment we have for the families, when they stay here, is similar to what they would experience in the medical setting as far as safety and cleanliness. So, lots of additional funding that we hadn't planned on, for personal protective equipment, for disinfecting supplies, and we're just trying to make it all work.

PRENTICE: Well, indeed, there is a crisis at Idaho hospitals. How is that impacting the number of children and families that you're seeing?

PLUMLEE: Yeah, it's been a tricky year, for sure. Nobody really plans for their kids to get sick. And when there is a very critical illness, it's hard to be able to find just a different medical institution you can go to. You know, most of the specialists that these children are needing are located in the Treasure Valley. So, I think creativity, like a lot of things, has been the key. Maybe some of the children who are going through different oncology treatments, they would do as many telehealth visits as possible before bringing them, so where we may have seen them weekly, maybe we see them once a month, actually make that and physically travel. [There is] still a fair number of premature births and births with complications. So, the neonatal intensive care unit is still probably about half of the families that stay with us. A little more challenging for the parents because the very strict visitation guidelines are parents or legal guardians only, and only one parent at a time. So that, of course, makes it a little more challenging. So, while our numbers, George, maybe haven't dropped much, the number of people with the families have, you know, instead of maybe mom, dad, a couple siblings and grandma, we see mom and dad or just mom. And we’re really trying to do our best, like everybody, to help make the situation a little easier for the families.

PRENTICE: Well, even a pandemic cannot stop Christmas for a child. So, talk to us about the importance of being a home away from home for the holidays.

PLUMLEE: Yes, it shouldn't. Right? When nothing in life is under your control and going the way that should be, and there's a lot of stress and a lot of worry and a lot of concern. We want to make it special. Nobody really wants to be at the Ronald McDonald House. But when they are here over the holidays, we want to make it memorable. We want to make the child and brothers and sisters feel cared-for, feel loved, feel supported and really make it that “It gets you in your heart” feeling of Christmas.

PRENTICE: What do you need?

PLUMLEE: A few different things would really be helpful. I know this sounds kind of silly, but we need gloves, especially during changes of season or things like that, we have gone through pretty much all of the gloves that we had, of varying sizes. So, mittens, gloves, anything like that would be really helpful. We could use some toys for very young ages. So, think of rattles, teethers, development toys, those sorts of things. We could also use some gifts for teenagers. Everybody likes to buy the fun Hot Wheels or dolls or, you know, the kind of gifts that see, and they're easy to imagine a child having a lot of joy with. We have a lot of teenagers stay with us, and they can be tricky in a lot of ways. But finding the right gift for a team, I think for all of us, it’s maybe a little bit of a challenge. So, gift cards, books, graphic novels. Think back, maybe to when you were a teenager. If you have teenagers, what are some of those things that would really kind of light up their face and make them smile so that right now is kind of our biggest need?

PRENTICE: Well, thank goodness that you and your colleagues are there every day of the year. She is Mindy Plumlee, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House in Boise. Happy holidays. Thank you for what you do. Thanks for giving us a few minutes this morning.

PLUMLEE: Thank you very much, George.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

Copyright 2020 Boise State Public Radio