Stories

Help for Immediate Needs

Emergency fund provides on-the-spot assistance for families with immediate needs.

When a trip to the hospital creates unexpected burdens, we can lift some of the weight from a family’s shoulders.

Families come to Seattle Children’s to get the best medical care for their child, but a trip to the hospital can create nonmedical needs that leave some families in the lurch.

Many arrive with just the clothes on their back and no money for food, like the mother who flew here with her daughter from Alaska after the girl’s appendix burst.

Some arrive with no way to contact loved ones, like the parents who rushed to the hospital without a cell phone charger when their son was airlifted to the Emergency Department after nearly drowning.

Others face issues after leaving the hospital, like the single mom who couldn’t afford new bedding for her two chronically ill children.

Thanks to our donors, providers and staff, Seattle Children’s can offer on-the-spot help when families like these are unprepared or unable to meet basic needs arising from their child’s hospitalization.

Fueled by philanthropy

Joan Ward

Thanks to our donors, our social workers, like Joan Ward, can help patient families meet immediate needs before connecting them with agencies and organizations in the community that can provide long-term assistance.

Supported entirely by donors and an endowment, our Patient Emergency Assistance Fund provides modest sums for food, a change of clothes, transportation and other essentials that make a big difference for more than 2,000 families a year during a difficult moment in their lives.

“Many of our families live paycheck to paycheck,” says Joan Ward, a Seattle Children’s social worker. “The unexpected costs of coming to the hospital – meals, travel, a place to sleep – can be a hardship. We can take some everyday worries off their plate so they can focus on what’s most important – their child.”

Administered by Seattle Children’s social work team, the fund is intended to be a short-term resource that can buy time for social workers to assess a family’s longer-term needs, connect with agencies outside the hospital and develop a long-term plan for families that require ongoing help.

Cafeteria vouchers, bulk food purchases and grocery cards are the most common forms of assistance, followed by gas cards, hotel vouchers and taxi fare. Assistance typically caps at $75 per year per family to stretch the dollars as far as possible.

In certain instances, we help families with bigger needs like rent, utilities and furniture to ensure patients return to a stable and healing home environment. In the saddest cases, we help with funeral expenses.

Referrals come from clinicians and staff members throughout the hospital. “We sometimes get referrals from security guards who see families sleeping in their cars,” Ward says. “Families say the concern and compassion shown by everyone at Seattle Children’s is what they will remember most.”

Helping families be present and participate in their child’s care – and learn how to continue care when they go home – is a fundamental part of our mission.

– Roosevelt Travis, social work team leader

Supporting our mission

Roosevelt Travis

Roosevelt Travis leads Seattle Children’s social work team.

Aileen Kelly and Sue Byers

Guild Association members, led by Aileen Kelly, (left), executive director, and Sue Byers, the chairman of the Guild Association Board of Trustees, raised nearly $75,000 in cash, gift cards and groceries for Operation Family Care in 2013 and 2014.

The concern and compassion leads to better care for children because the immediate assistance removes barriers (like paying for meals or gas) that can make it difficult for families to be with their child in the hospital.

“Families know their child better than anyone. Helping families be present and participate in their child’s care – and learn how to continue care when they go home – is a fundamental part of our mission,” says Roosevelt Travis, who leads the social work team.

The strong connection between helping families meet basic needs and the hospital’s mission inspired the Seattle Children’s Hospital Guild Association to hold heartwarming drives to benefit the fund in 2013 and again in 2014.

“Our members saw an opportunity to support the hospital’s commitment to family-centered care,” says Sue Byers, who chairs the Guild Association’s Board of Trustees. “Providing a meal or cab fare to families in a moment of need is such a Seattle Children’s thing to do.”

The back-to-back drives in 2013 and 2014 – dubbed Operation Family Care – raised $40,390 in cash, collected $17,125 in gift cards and filled 600 bags with groceries valued at $16,130.

Ward says families are extremely grateful for the help they receive. They send cards and letters and other tokens of appreciation – like the case of cherries sent by a family from Eastern Washington.

“The hospital where I worked before didn’t have a mechanism for providing this type of assistance. It was heartbreaking to see families struggle to feed themselves or scramble to get back and forth from the hospital,” says Ward. “I’m thankful our donors provide a way for us to help us ease the burden for families with a seriously sick or injured child.”

Published in Connection magazine, December 2014