During long days at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital five years ago, Paula Elsener and her son would find respite sitting by a window behind a bank of elevators.
“That was our spot,” she said, reflecting on the secluded corner with two chairs and views of a nearby pyramid-shaped building.
Elsener knows firsthand how the patient-family experience can be improved during a lengthy hospital stay. Her son spent eight months at the nonprofit Memphis, Tennessee-based hospital, far from their hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina, as he underwent treatment for acute myeloid leukemia. He’d already survived testicular cancer.
Hoping to help other parents and kids, Elsener serves on the hospital’s Patient Family Advisory Council. The council, along with clinicians, offered hospital leadership teams recommendations for its new Family Commons space, which opened in February after several years of design and construction. The 45,000-square-foot floor, funded through a $50 million donation from pharmaceutical company AbbVie to cover construction and operating costs, offers a welcoming environment.
The floor is designed to resemble a town square in an effort to provide a sense of normalcy, said St. Jude President and CEO Dr. James Downing.
When children get a cancer diagnosis, treatment protocols direct their lives, often requiring families to spend full days at the hospital.
“The parents feel as though they lose control of being parents,” Downing said. The space is designed to let parents be parents, and children be children, he added.