Standing in support of the JoeAnna’s House fundraising campaign are (from left) Vernon Lodge general manager David Gibbs, Vernon Prestige hotel general manager Clara Snedden, Vernon mom Alana Rudrum and Kelowna General Hospital Foundation director of philanthropy Mischa Mueller. (Barry Gerding/Morning Star)

JoeAnna’s House fundraising campaign reaches $4.5 million

Offering ‘home away from home’ for families of KGH patients

An $8 million fundraising campaign to build accommodation for relatives of out-of-town patients requiring specialized care at Kelowna General Hospital will have a significant impact on Vernon families.

Misha Mueller, director of philanthropy with the Kelowna General Hospital Foundation, says 25 per cent of patients admitted to KGH come from outside the Central Okanagan. Vernon’s share of that patient load is about 640 cases annually, not counting the neighbouring communities such as Lumby or Armstrong.

“The average stay for those cases from Vernon is about 15 days,” Mueller added. “So traveling back and forth from where you live to Kelowna because your child or relative is admitted to KGH is not a realistic scenario for a lot of families.”

It is because of that temporary housing need that the Prestige Hotels & Resorts, with the support of the KGH Foundation, have taken on the ‘Better Together’ fundraising campaign to build JoeAnna’s House, a 20-room housing facility on the hospital site.

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JoeAnna’s House a worthy project

Prestige has committed $1 million to the project, named after Joe and Annie Huber, who founded the Prestige hotel chain that now extends across B.C.’s Southern Interior, including in Vernon and Salmon Arm.

Their children now run the business and had long talked about this project as a legacy for their parents, reflecting their values of family and supporting their community.

Vernon mom Alana Rudrum knows first-hand how important JoeAnna’s House will be for families after her son Grayson was delivered prematurely at 29 weeks, weighing in at 2 lb, 10 oz.

Because Vernon Jubilee Hospital was unable to care for a baby at that premature stage, Rudrum was sent to KGH for the caesarian birth surgery.

Related: Kelowna students donate to JoeAnna’s House

Rudrum was released two days after the surgery but her baby was not. While there were no major complications, Grayson required more hospital care and monitoring until his weight reached a level normal with a full-term pregnancy.

“It began to sink in I couldn’t go home if my baby wasn’t coming with me, but I had no where to stay and I didn’t drive which ruled out commuting as an option. I had some 50 family members in Vernon but none in Kelowna,” she recalled, the experience still causing her to tear up emotionally even today.

“I started to panic when a social worker approached me and said Cops For Kids have a program where displaced parents can apply to have their hotel costs paid for.

“To say that was a relief to learn was an understatement and I will be forever grateful to Cops For Kids for allowing me to stay close to my baby while he was in hospital.”

Grayson, now 20 months old, was a patient at KGH for 42 days. “It was the longest I have ever been away from home. It was emotionally and could have been financially exhausting.”

Gail Harrison, grant coordinator for the Cops For Kids Charitable Foundation, said her organization is supporting the JoeAnna’s House campaign, because they recognize finding accommodation for families can be very challenging.

“Hotel vacancies in Kelowna are at an all-time low, and often the financial burden without our assistance is simply too overwhelming,” Harrison said.

Related: Accommodation plans revealed

Tanya Stroinig, executive vice-president of Prestige Hotels & Resorts, said the company is deeply committed to this project, planning to involve their various hotel staffs in fundraising endeavours of support.

“The impact of having a sick child can be devastating in these small, close-knit communities. Everyone knows someone who’s had to travel for medical care….the emotional and financial burden of traveling for care can be completely overwhelming,” Stroinig said.

Clara Snedden, general manager of the Vernon Prestige hotel, said her staff has already started talking about what they could to to assist the Better Together campaign.

Mueller said the City of Kelowna has been a big supporter of the campaign, even though it will provide little benefit to its local residents.

“We are hoping other communities get behind this campaign as well because it is their residents that will require this assistance in the future,” he said.

With Kelowna General Hospital as one of two regional tertiary care level in the southern Interior, the other being in Kamloops, out-of-town patient traffic is likely to expand as available medical services are increased, the neonatal intensive care unit capabilities being one of them.

Construction is expected to begin on JoeAnna’s House in October 2018 with completion targeted for the fall of 2019.

An architect has already been hired and initial design plans are being discussed, with a construction construction contract expected to be put out to tender soon.

The $8 million campaign will cover all land, construction and initial start-up costs with the KGH Foundation committed to fund and operate JoeAnna’s House.

“We have an ambitious goal,” said Doug Rankmore, chief executive officer of the KGH Foundation of the Better Together campaign that has so far raised $4.5 million.

“We’re going to need to come together, and work together as a region to make it happen.”

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