Volunteer groups prepare dinners in the Renucci House kitchen for resident families about 25 days each month. Courtesy Spectrum Health
When a family member of Peter and Patricia Renucci needed health care services out of state, their family was able to stay near the patient’s side through accommodations at a hospitality house.
From that experience, they came to understand the importance of having patients nearby their families, and they led the campaign for construction of a similar housing facility in their home of Grand Rapids.
The couple gave the lead donation of $1.6 million for the construction of the $5.2 million facility. More than 2,000 other community donors came forward to fill the gap.
The Renucci Hospitality House hosts families of patients at Spectrum Health Butterworth, Blodgett and Helen DeVos Children’s hospitals. The five-story building has 37 rooms that are full all the time, said Laurel Viewig, hospitality operations manager for the house.
More than 320 patients and their families each month from throughout the country and the world stay at the Renucci House, and more than 53,000 families have stayed at house since it opened in 1999.
“What we say is it's a home away from home,” Viewig said. “It provides respite for these individuals who've traveled a distance to seek care here.”
The house features private guest rooms with private baths, a large kitchen with three separate setups, common sitting and dining areas, playroom, laundry, library and garden.
The house even has hypoallergenic rooms for patients with immune system issues.
Those served include patients dealing with heart and lung transplants, neonatal intensive care, bone marrow transplants and pediatric oncology.
It costs $70 per night to operate a room. Families are charged $45 per night, and the rest is subsidized by the Spectrum Health Foundation, Viewig said. Insurance covers lodging in some cases. Income is not a factor in being allowed to stay, so if patients can’t pay, the foundation covers that, as well.
Staying in the house is first come, first served and not based on eligibility requirements.
“The foundation absolutely sees the value, and they don't want cost to be deterrent for people to stay here,” Viewig said.
The shortest visits are one night. The longest was 16 months.
When the house opened, the majority of families stayed for about five days. Now, about a quarter of families stay for more than 30 days, Viewig said.
When the rooms are full, which is most of the time, a couple of local hotels — Drury Inn & Suites Grand Rapids, 5175 28th St. SE, and Holiday Inn Grand Rapids Downtown, 310 Pearl St. NW — provide reduced rates to patient families. The Renucci House also collaborates with Ronald McDonald House and Hope Lodge to ensure that the most families are accommodated.
Viewig said one valuable quality of the house is the opportunity for families to receive support from each other and the house’s 10 staff members, including one who has been with the house since the day it opened.
Unlike at a hotel, the house’s reception staff are sometimes there to just listen to guests.
“Not only are we providing a room, but we provide compassion because no one is here on vacation,” Viewig said. “No one is here because they want to be here.”
Several of the house’s staff have become certified tourism ambassadors with Experience Grand Rapids, which Viewig said has helped them become more educated about what the city can offer guests.
Viewig said there have been instances of families meeting each other in the common spaces and connecting and then their physician schedules their next appointments within the same week so they can see each other again.
“They bring as much joy to us as we do to them,” Viewig said. “I've been at Spectrum Health for 22 years, and I've been in this house for three, and this is probably been one of the most impactful places to see how we are helping those families.”
Volunteer groups prepare dinners in the Renucci House kitchen for resident families about 25 days each month. Volunteers also bring baked goods and other snacks for the common areas. The house provides breakfast for the families.
There are several groups of longtime volunteers for the house. Viewig said her parents’ church has been preparing meals once every month for 11 years.
The main floor lobby recently was renovated, but the rooms and their furniture have “seen a lot of love” over the years, Viewig said, and it’s time for an update.
Spectrum has updated two rooms so far as a pilot. The plan is to renovate two or three rooms at a time in 15 more phases with the goal to have the project done in the next 12 months.
The project is being funded through the foundation, which is seeking donations to close funding needs.
The initial cost is $20,000-$25,000 per room, though the foundation is looking to fulfill higher philanthropy opportunities to ensure the house can continue being updated over the years.
“We would not be around without the Spectrum Health Foundation,” Viewig said. “They see the value of providing the service to our community so that people could come to Grand Rapids and Spectrum Health and Helen DeVos and get that excellent care.”
The house has a guest book families can sign at the end of their stay.
One person said: “A week ago, we were not sure what would happen. My 80-year-old husband had an aortic valve replaced and a triple bypass. Our family was blessed by the privilege of staying nearby in this beautiful home away from home. … You have provided a safe, secure, blessed place to rest, cry, laugh and, most of all, support not just one loved one but each other in this journey we are taking together.”