Ronald McDonald House of Missoula provides sibling fun during critical care

The Ronald McDonald House of Western Montana has launched a new program to ensure the siblings of a child undergoing critical medical care at Community Medical Center get some attention as well. And they’re calling it Super Siblings. (Courtesy photo)

One year after a ceremonial groundbreaking, the Ronald McDonald House of Western Montana is placing the final touches on a $3.1 million renovation and expansion, and plans to have the project finished by July.

In the meantime, the facility has launched a new program to ensure the siblings of a child undergoing critical medical care at Community Medical Center get some attention as well.

And they’re calling it Super Siblings.

“My nephew was going through cancer treatment, and I witnessed his two sisters going through a lot of emotions, feeling very confused and scared,” said Amy Peterson, CEO of the Ronald McDonald House in Missoula. “So we created this program to protect and care for the siblings while we know the physicians are taking care of the sick kiddo.”

The Ronald McDonald House accommodates families who have a child undergoing critical care, and oftentimes those families come with other children.

In partnership with Quality Construction, the facility has found new ways to keep those siblings occupied with various activities. During the renovation and expansion process, those activities happen to coincide with construction.

“A lot of times, naturally, when a kiddo is sick, the attention goes to the kiddo,” said Peterson. “The siblings often feel unseen, unheard, confused, and a lot of times they get shuffled from family member to family member. What we strive to do is provide one-on-one attention and special experiences for the siblings of the sick kiddo.”

The Super Siblings program addresses those fears and anxiety – and sometimes jealousy – during what’s usually a challenging time for a family, whose focus is occupied on their sick child. The goal looks to provide a “home away from home” experience, including meals, games and activities.

“It’s a delight for us to bring joy to the brothers and sisters of those children who are experiencing life’s tough dealings,” said Flint Olsen, president of Quality Construction. “We want to make it a special experience for the children of the Ronald McDonald House.”

Amy Peterson, the chief executive officer for the Ronald McDonald House of Western Montana, has overseen the home’s operation since 2015. But she became personally familiar with the program in 2008 when her nephew was diagnosed with neuroblastoma. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file photo)

The nonprofit group broke ground last August on the expansion and renovation of its current home, which was dated and worn from use. Several partners and donors stepped up early on to give the program a financial boost, including the AbbVie Corporation and the Jane Heman Foundation.

Of the $3.1 million, the organization now stands just $50,000 short of its fundraising goal, and it’s well on its way to opening the new complex. That will enable the Ronald McDonald House to serve more families across western Montana.

“Last year, we had to turn away 72 families, simply because we didn’t have the space,” Peterson said. “The mission of the house is to keep families close during the most difficult days of their lives. Being able to provide not only a place to rest, but a place where families can receive a sense of community and support, we feel is vital.”

When the project is finished, the facility will offer nearly 3,000 additional room stays each year. The number of family suites will double from eight to 16 and the common area, where families often look for support, will expand.

“The idea is to keep families close to the hospital so they can spend that time together rather than having to travel down Reserve Street to stay in a hotel room,” said Peterson. “These families are also surrounded by other families that are going through a similar situation. That’s something that only the Ronald McDonald House provides. You’re not going to find that at a hotel.”