For Rancho families, there's no place like home

DOWNEY - The Assistance League of Downey's HOME Project is an apartment style housing complex that has helped thousands of families stay close to their loved ones with catastrophic disabling illnesses and injuries while they are patients of world-renowned Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center.The highly successful HOME Project (Housing of Medical Emergencies), was first conceived in the late 1980s when one of Assistance League members visited a similar project adjacent to the Stanford Medical Center. "We thought it could work at Rancho…so we took our idea to Rancho and to Supervisor Don Knabe," said Assistance League HOME Project manager Mary Lou Schmidt. Soon Rancho, Knabe and the Assistance League of Downey joined hands, and in the end we really joined hearts, because this project was a true labor of love, and each supported the other." The Assistance League membership worked for 11 years to raise the money to build the 10-apartment HOME. "This was the most fun project we have ever done," said Schmidt. "Once the money was raised, it was really fun to work with the architect, the contractors and the especially the women of the Assistance League." Los Angeles County provided the land for HOME. Then the Assistance League spent $750,000 to build and furnish the project. The Assistance League of Downey also takes care of all the maintenance for the facility and staffs the office on a daily basis. "We help patients and their families from throughout the world," Schmidt said. "I especially remember a gentleman from Caracas, Venezuela, who had lost both legs after an automobile accident. He had saved his money for 12 years so that he could come to Rancho to get prostheses for both legs. He was here for nearly an entire summer. When he left here he stood up on both legs, and as he walked out of here he said, 'My children have never seen me walk, and now I am going home to walk to them.' And he did. He was just an amazing individual and a true success story, because without HOME, he couldn't have afforded to be near the Rancho campus during the recovery period from his surgeries." Working closely with Rancho's Social Work Department, HOME has provided more than 16,000 nights of lodging, for nearly 3,000 families who have stayed there over the last 13 years. The lodging fee for guests has remained $10 a night since HOME opened. This allows Rancho patient families, who are often unable to afford a motel or hotel, the opportunity to stay within walking distance of their loved ones. Now the HOME Project's amazing contributions to Rancho's patient families is receiving Rancho's highest honor, the Amistad Award. This prestigious award for Community Service will be presented to the Assistance League of Downey at the 24th Annual Amistad Gala on May 1 at the Westin Long Beach Hotel. "We found that by providing a place for the families to stay so that they could be close to their loved ones who were receiving treatment at Rancho, that the outcomes were much better, that patients improved, the family became familiar with the treatment, and when the patient went home, they knew what to do to take care of them," Schmidt said. "It was really a win-win for everyone." In addition to its use for patient families, HOME is also used to house clinicians who visit Rancho. For example, HOME will be used to house visiting researchers and clinical experts from as far away as Tel Aviv and Milan at Rancho's International Transformational Technology Conference this fall. "We will use the home facility for a place for our speakers, Rancho staff and local people from the academic, neurology and engineering communities to discuss interesting topics all day and late into the evening," said Rancho Chief Medical Officer Mindy Aisen, MD. "It will literally be our HOME base for us to conduct a retreat and have discussions hoping to lead to innovative approaches to care in rehabilitation medicine." The vast majority of HOME guests are patient families, however. "We remember a baby that came into Rancho that had been transferred from another hospital where the parents were told she would be in a permanent vegetative state," Schmidt said. "After eight months at Rancho, with her parents staying at HOME every night so they could encourage their child, this beautiful little girl was ready to be an outpatient. And although the family had been told before she came to Rancho that she would never have the capacity to move, we were delighted to see that on her checkout day, the baby was sitting up, and clapping her hands to the beat of music that was playing on the radio. It was a joyous day, and a true Rancho miracle." The Assistance League members who help out at HOME see first-hand what families have gone through. "It's incredible when you think that in the blink of an eye lives are changed because of accidents," Schmidt said. "Thank God we have a place like Rancho for these people to come to. Each and every family has a unique story that just touches your heart. And we're so grateful that we can make a place that's home away from home, because we are here to help them in any way we can."

********** Published: April 16, 2010 - Volume 8 - Issue 52