Since 2001, Kathy's House in Milwaukee has proved itself a warm and supportive environment to families who are suffering from a personal illness or the serious illness of a loved one. Now, with a 75 percent or higher occupancy, Kathy's House is planning for a future of an increase in need for its services.
Kathy's House Executive Director and CEO Patty Metropulos explained that the center offers a place to stay for people and families who need to travel to Milwaukee for medical care.
"Kathy's House, a private non-profit agency, is the only hospital hospitality house in Milwaukee that serves patients of all ages. Seventy five percent of our referred patients are being treated for cancer or a cancer-related illness; 80 percent are referred from Froedtert Hospital," she added.
Through the help of their two full-time, five part-time workers and an army of volunteers, Kathy's House was home to 661 families last year; a total of 1,322 individuals.
Metropulos explained that the home was founded by a Milwaukee-area couple following the death of their young adult daughter, Kathy. A young wife and mother of three, Kathy Vogel Kuettner was diagnosed in the spring of 1999 with Burkitt's lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkins' lymphoma. She underwent multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant from her oldest sister, Susan. She was out of the hospital less than a month when the cancer returned. After fighting a year-long battle against this tenacious and rare form of cancer, 39-year-old Kathy passed away on July 4, 2000.
"Kathy was a person of kindness, generosity and true compassion," said Metropulos.
During her time in the hospital, her room was often full of supporting visitors — something that not all patients had. Before her death, Kathy expressed a wish to her family that they open a hospital hospitality house to serve patients of all ages.
Kathy's House is a place where guests can eat, sleep, and be with others when they want, or be alone when they need time, introspection and quiet healing.
"Patients and their caregivers (most often family members) benefit from the individual attention and support provided by Kathy's House staff and volunteers," Metropulos stated.
Guests at Kathy's House stay anywhere from one night to several months; the average stay is eight days. All guests live at least 40 miles outside of the greater Milwaukee area. Last year, sixty percent of guests came from Wisconsin, 22 percent from Michigan (primarily the Upper Peninsula), 7 percent from other Midwest states, and 11 percent from other U.S. states.
Kathy's House has 18 private suites, each with its own bathroom, TV and phone. A fully-equipped kitchen is also shared by everyone, with individual storage space for each family. Guests share a communal dining room, living room, computer and fitness centers as well as the free laundry facilities. Kathy's House also provides free transportation to and from area hospitals, pharmacies and grocery stores during business hours. Additionally, free, nutritious dinners are prepared by volunteers two to three times a week.
To help offset costs, all guests are asked for a donation; however, no one is turned away due to their inability to contribute.
"For a procedure such as a bone marrow transplant, surgery may require a two- to four-week hospital stay followed by up to 90 days of outpatient treatment. The cost to stay in a hotel for this length of time could easily exceed $10,000 in Milwaukee," Metropulos said.
"We enlist the time and talent of over 200 volunteers to keep our house open 365 days a year," she said.
Volunteers are comprised of retired professionals, church and civic groups, college interns, high school students, Boy and Girl Scout troops, and youth and adult groups with special needs. Metropulos notes that one of Kathy's House's volunteers was presented with the 2014 Community Quarterback Award at a luncheon at Lambeau and was provided with two tickets to the game on Dec. 28. As well, the agency was presented with a $4,000 check.
Need for Expansion
Metropulos explained that, historically, Kathy's House has been 50 percent full. However, 2013 saw pivotal growth in the house's use, and occupancy grew to 75 percent or higher. In 2013, Kathy's House provided boarding for 9,756 guest nights, up from 7,580 in 2012.
"We are serving significantly more families than ever before. We now have to put families on a waiting list at least once a month as our house is completely full," said Metropulos.
Due to aging demographics, the regionalization of health care associated with reform efforts, and the planned expansion of Froedtert Hospital, "we know the demand for our services will continue to increase."
Kathy's House has taken preliminary steps in planning for a new, larger facility that will be better equipped to serve the needs of patients and their families.
Metropulos stated that "We sent out 3,000 guest surveys last year to ascertain what aspects of the House our former patients valued the most and what improvements they would like to see." From that survey, they learned that guests liked the guest rooms, the ample common areas, the large community kitchen and transportation and laundry services. The top recommendation for a future house was elevators and overall increased accessibility for guests with limited mobility.
Given that 80 percent of the families served by Kathy's House are receiving treatment at Froedtert and the Medical College of Wisconsin, Kathy's House would like a potentially new site to be located as close to them as possible.
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