When a child is hospitalized, the whole family is impacted. Normal routines are thrown into chaos, plans are put on hold, and parents are often faced with impossible choices: being with their child in the hospital, caring for their other kids, or returning to work so they can provide for their family.
However, the families of pediatric patients don’t have to face these profound challenges alone. The Doernbecher Social Services team is a powerful ally in their health journey, offering support and resources to ensure that the entire family is cared for.
That support takes many different forms. It could mean connecting a family to counseling services or helping them navigate the insurance system. If a young patient is missing their pup at home, therapy dogs Hope or Davis step in to offer canine companionship. In one instance, the team even brought in a Native American drumming circle because it was important to the family’s spiritual needs.
“Just as the doctors look at the medical needs of a child, we look at the psycho-social needs of the whole family and identify ways that we can make a positive impact in their lives,” said Kristin Knight, LCSW, one of the lead pediatric social workers at Doernbecher.
Now, thanks to the incredible generosity of an anonymous donor, the team has the ability to offer even more meaningful assistance to families in need.
A laundry room epiphany
The $1 million gift was inspired by a chance encounter in the family laundry room at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. It was 2 a.m., and the donor, an extended family member of a critically ill child named Sadie, had slipped away from the child’s room to catch up on laundry in the quiet morning hours. There she encountered the father of another young patient, washing and folding clothes for his family.
“Before we even spoke, I was struck by how carefully and gently he was folding his wife’s and his newborn son’s clothing,” she said. “As we began to talk, his gentle nature showed through. So did his quiet despair, because he had lost his job that day for not going to work. He wasn’t angry or complaining, just matter of fact. He told me, ‘It isn’t a choice for me. I cannot leave my wife and son while the doctors are searching for what is wrong with our baby.’”
“This brief encounter stayed with me and urged me to do something to help others in the shoes all family members share when their child is in critical condition,” she continued.
And with that, Sadie’s Fund was born.
Introducing Sadie’s Fund
Established in May of this year, Sadie’s Fund is specifically designed to offer comfort to families at Doernbecher. Half of the $1 million fund will be used to increase social worker coverage, while the other half will directly pay for needs of families identified by the Social Services team.
“The fund really gives us the freedom to think outside the box and be there for these families,” said Knight. “If it’s something that can improve the comfort and well-being of a family member in their individual situation, then we can consider it.”
For example, if a family member relies on fitness to deal with the stress of a hospitalized child, the team might use the fund to purchase a temporary gym membership. If a sibling is feeling neglected, the fund might cover a fun outing. Or if a parent needs a friend to lean on, the fund can help get them there.
“We had one instance where we had a child that had been transported to our trauma center from out of town, and her single mom was here all alone,” said Knight. “Before Sadie’s Fund, we didn’t have the resources to fly a support person out to be here for her, but now that’s something we could do.”
A first for families
Knight says she’s struck by both the generosity of the gift and its unique nature. “I’ve been at OHSU for 17 years, and this is the first resource we’ve had that’s really focused on the comfort of the family. It’s very special and unique that way — it’s also a wonderful surprise.”
Already Sadie’s Fund has been put to good use. When a father lost his job to COVID-19, he was torn between going on job interviews or being with his daughter in the PICU. The team used the fund to cover a month of rent, giving the family a financial buffer so they could spend precious time with their child.
That’s exactly the kind of compassionate act the donor had in mind when Sadie’s fund was created. “I’m grateful knowing the amazing staff at Doernbecher is utilizing this gift in a way that has a positive impact for other families,” she said.