The standout memory for Valerie Aston during her daughter Arianna’s early inpatient stays at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, going back 21 years, was the solitude.
“It was such a lonely time,” Aston says. “There was no one to talk to, nowhere to go. While Arianna slept, I’d sit and stare out the window.”
CHOP made the loneliness vanish in 1997 when the Connelly Resource Center for Families opened its doors — thanks to a generous donation from the Connelly Foundation — and the center’s staff opened their arms to patient families. From that time on, the center’s team members have been quick to offer a reassuring hug, a cup of coffee and an ear.
“Everyone there is so special, and they make you feel like you’re the most important person in the world,” Aston says. “You walk in and you know someone will listen to you, and that makes you feel like you’re not alone.”
“The Connelly Center was created to fulfill our belief that we treat the entire family,” says Leanne Cimato, RN, Manager of Family Services. “We recognize that families’ needs go beyond medical care for the ill child.”
Three in one
The Connelly Center has three welcoming areas to provide the extras for families that are searching for information, needing to get work done or trying to navigate the logistics of an inpatient stay. The library has computers, reference books, a children’s library and a librarian to help locate facts about a diagnosis. There’s an education area where CHOP nurses teach caregivers how to handle such challenges as a tracheostomy or a feeding tube or to perform other daunting care-related tasks once home. The hospitality area offers a kitchen stocked with snacks, sleep rooms, showers, laundry facilities and more.
It's open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and everything is free, from the coffee to the laundry soap.
For the Astons, a visit to the Connelly Center is part of their routine whenever Arianna, now 21, has one of her many specialty care appointments or if she is admitted. “Arianna has accidents a lot,” Valerie says. “I pack six outfits, and she may go through them all. I can come to the Connelly Center and do laundry, or if I can’t stay, they’ll do it for me. That’s a valuable service.”
But what is invaluable are the staff members. Several have been there since the beginning. “It feels like family,” Valerie says.
Nervous no more
Staff go out of their way to ensure that patients feel at home, too. That was Kanyeaa O’Neal’s experience, starting when she was hospitalized as a 10-year-old.
“The nurse told me there was a library, and since I’m a nerd, I went looking for books,” she remembers. “I was a little nervous, but they made me feel so welcome.”
The Connelly Center became a refuge during her many hospitalizations, most related to sickle cell disease. “As a kid, I was in the Hospital almost 10 months out of one year,” says O’Neal, now 21. “When I was stuck at CHOP, the people in the Connelly Center put a smile on my face. They always cheered me up.”
CHOP doesn’t underestimate families’ need for a comfortable place to relax between appointments, and the Connelly Center is just one of several spots.
They can also retreat to the Auto Dealers CARing for Kids Foundation Welcome Center, the Buerger Center for Advanced Pediatric Care’s Welcome Center, the Little Rock Foundation Resource Room (especially helpful for family members who have hearing or vision impairment) or the brand-new Center for Families.
“Whether families are here for an appointment or an admission, our goal is to be as supportive as possible,” says Cimato, the Family Services manager. And more is envisioned. “If funding becomes available,” she adds, “we have plans to further enhance family supports across the Main Campus.”
Connelly Center by the numbers in 2016
- 75,822 families and visitors
- 44,149 people used the kitchen and laundry
- 12,098 loads of laundry washed and dried with staff assistance
- 1,278 people used the nap rooms
- 2,000 books circulated through the Family Library
- 2,217 cellphones charged
- 2,741 classes taught in the Family Learning Center
- 3,000+ teaching documents for families available through the Learning Center, with 15 percent available in languages other than English