Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

KPBS Midday Edition

New Ronald McDonald House Offers Relief For More Families With A Sick Child

The new Ronald McDonald House is shown Aug. 10, 2017.
Kris Arciaga
The new Ronald McDonald House is shown Aug. 10, 2017.

For more than 25 years, right across the street from Rady Children’s Hospital, a sick child's parents and other family members have been able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House.

Due to increased demand from families in a medical crisis, a second Ronald McDonald House has opened just a short walk away.

The 7,500-square-foot building has enough space for eight families to stay for an extended period of time.


There’s a spacious, fully-equipped kitchen downstairs, large suites on the third floor and a state-of-the-art Nintendo system for kids to play on.

But this is not a resort hotel. It’s a place where families can stay when they have a seriously ill child in the hospital.

Chuck Day, president and CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of San Diego, likes to show people one of the most distinctive parts of the house: the reflection room.

“Our reflection room just really provides a space where folks can step away," Day said, leading a visitor into a room with a large, pastel-colored glass wall and soft lighting.

New Ronald McDonald House Offers Relief For More Families With A Sick Child
New Ronald McDonald House Offers Relief For More Families With A Sick Child
Due to increased demand, a second Ronald McDonald House has opened near Rady Children's Hospital.

"As you can imagine, we have seen every member of every possible spiritual faith in the world here at the Ronald McDonald House," Day said. "And so we just try to encourage them to make this their own. They can spend some time here relaxing and reflecting, just to try to take a little of the pressure off during the day.”


McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc helped establish the first Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia. Day said their mission is pretty simple.

“Keep families close. Keep families close to their hospitalized child, and it’s been a remarkable mission for us, starting with No. 1 in 1976, No. 20 in 1980. We now have 365 houses in the world," Day said.

Capacity for 47 families

The other Ronald McDonald House is nearly 10 times the size of the new one. It has enough space for 47 families to stay at any one time.

This larger facility has a sizable cafeteria that serves three meals a day and provides families refrigerator space to store their own food if they wish.

At lunchtime, young pianists take turns playing as families catch a quick bite before they go back to the hospital.

The cook, Robin Smith, said it’s important to keep families fed.

“Like today, we have soup and sandwich, so we do, like, three types of soup, a hot sandwich, cold sandwich, salad on the side, and there’s always some type of dessert, different varieties of dessert, cakes, pies, cookies," she said.

Grateful families

Joel Ericson and his family have been at the Ronald McDonald House since mid-April. They live in Russia, where Ericson heads up the Fulbright program.

When his son, Pavel, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, Ericson contacted some of his friends in San Diego. They recommended the doctors at Rady Children’s Hospital.

After Pavel had brain surgery, he had to spend a lot of time in the intensive care unit.

“And as a parent, you just can’t not be there," Ericson said. "But at the same time, it’s exhausting. And to have this across the street, so you can always be near.”

Amy McRoberts’ daughter, Emma, was born 28 weeks premature. Emma’s twin sister died.

McRoberts lives on the island of Saipan, just north of Guam in the western Pacific. It took her four flights to get to San Diego.

McRoberts has been at the Ronald McDonald House since the end of May. Her daughter is in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“It’s hard to be a NICU mom," she said. "Other people don’t really understand it. So being able to be in a house full of people that truly understand the situation that you’re in is priceless.”

No one is turned away

Families are asked to make a one-time nonrefundable deposit of $40, and a donation of $20 a day while they stay at the Ronald McDonald House.

But no one is turned away if they can’t afford it.

San Diego donors cover 90 percent of the program’s funding. Local McDonald’s outlets and the McDonald’s corporation pick up the rest of the tab.

The homes are a safe haven for families who are going through a health crisis. Demand is high.

And despite the opening of the new house, it’s not unusual to have dozens of families on the waiting list.

President and CEO Chuck Day pointed out families who can’t stay at the homes can still use the facilities during the day.

“They can come to us for breakfast, lunch and dinner," he said. "They can use our computer room, they can use our playground if they have siblings, they can simply come and relax.”

Day said there’s a need for an even bigger Ronald McDonald House. He said that’s because Rady Children’s has a growing international reputation.

“And as their level of expertise continues to grow, we know more families are going to come here looking for help," he said. "And we want to be here to try to help them.”