The Woodmont House interior has more than 7,000 square feet. The grounds, which extend to the NIH fence, include an alleyway behind the house.
Photo Courtesy Children’s Inn
For the family with a seriously ill child, the world can change overnight. Hit with a youngster’s hospitalization, many parents struggle as routines collapse and everyday life is swamped.
But the Clinical Center is not an everyday hospital.
“The concept of family-centered care is a hallmark of the Clinical Center philosophy,” says Kathy Russell, CEO of the Children’s Inn at NIH, which, since 1990, has provided lodging for families whose children are receiving treatment at NIH. “We partner with biomedical research, and psychosocial support and housing are part of that.”
Now the inn has purchased “a beautiful house,” says Russell, “which expands our mission in a personal, tangible way that people can understand.”
The new place is Woodmont House, a 7-year-old former single-family dwelling just south of the NIH fence, near the intersection of Woodmont Ave. and Battery Ln. Following a renovation phase, thanks in part to a grant from Merck & Co., Inc., the house will feature 7 bedrooms, plus kitchen, dining room, living room, exercise room, library/recreation room and 2 laundry rooms. There’s also ground-level garage parking.
As an annex to the Children’s Inn, Woodmont House will provide free, safe and convenient lodging for 3 to 5 families, each eligible to stay for 6 to 12 months. And while the same healing spirit will inhabit the place, the level of illness will be less intense.
“We have seen that as care has changed—more outpatient care, and inpatient care more intensive—some families have to stay in the community for extended periods,” Russell explains. “They may be seen in clinic once or twice a week. They don’t need the acuity of services the inn provides, but they’re not well enough to go home either.”
Such patients may include children with cancer or those with aplastic anemia, many of whom have received transplants.
“Bethesda housing is expensive,” she continues. “Transportation is expensive. Right now, families may end up renting basements in Hagerstown, where it takes 45-60 minutes on a bus, one way, to get to NIH. And these are kids with compromised immune systems.” It’s much harder for them to fight infection.
For clinicians, “this niche of patients who aren’t well enough to go home” is a concern, says Russell. “There’s a risk to follow-up if you don’t help them, a risk of losing research momentum.”
Some 4 years ago, she and her colleagues started brainstorming: “How can we help them transition, these families who are suddenly without resources? Kids need to be in school. Parents need income; they too have educational needs. A lot of these people are multi-cultural. In some cases they have sold everything to get to the NIH for care; they have nothing here.”
A view of the house’s back porch
Photo: Belle Waring
When the Woodmont property became available, Randy Schools, NIH R&W president and a Children’s Inn board member, was approached by the house’s owner, a local builder and developer. The Children’s Inn, a non-profit corporation, purchased the Woodmont property, which is not on federal land, yet is an inn asset in sole support of the NIH mission.
Both Schools and Dennis Coleman, director of NIH’s Office of Public Liaison, are friends and supporters of the project, Russell says.
“The Woodmont property was zoned residential and [Coleman] was able to make introductions with the neighbors,” she recalls. “We got zoning approval in record time…The Children’s Inn helps put a face on NIH, because [some folks] don’t understand labs and test tubes, but they understand sick kids.”
To be eligible for Woodmont House, families may have surpassed the maximum stay at the inn, but the same patient age requirements—from newborn to age 26—will apply. NIH shuttle service, tutoring and other support will be available, but since the building is not on NIH property, a private firm will provide security.
“It’s not everything to everybody,” Russell says. “Woodmont House is empowerment via integration with the Bethesda community…getting you ready to go home, whether it’s in Kenya or in Idaho. But meanwhile we’ll work with social services to get kids back in school, help you get a job.”
Woodmont House will help kids like Oscar, a
15-year-old Kenyan with aplastic anemia, which
is fatal if untreated. Along with his mother
and sibling, who is Oscar’s bone marrow
donor, Oscar had exceeded the maximum stay
at the Children’s Inn. The Bethesda Community
Church offered to shelter them in a house it
owns and uses for charitable purposes. Oscar
and his sibling are now in local schools, while
Mom volunteers, stocking food in the Children’s
“She gets support here for Oscar’s health,” says
Russell, “and she also gives back.”
Such volunteer work will be encouraged at
Woodmont House. And, as part of the plan,
families will have responsibility for cooking
their own meals and caring for their home.
“A shared kitchen is good,” Russell says. “Common
space lets families come together and talk
about their concerns.”
Woodmont House is the fruit of teamwork by
parents’ groups, donors, clinicians, legal advisers,
administrators and the NCI nurse who
served as a catalyst.
“Kelly Richards is a Public Health Service R.N.
with a lot of Latin American contacts,” Russell
says, “and he knew what families were dealing
with, in terms of living conditions. He wrote a
research project while we wrote our feasibility
study, in parallel. We were thinking about the
same things, so we joined forces.”
Woodmont House will open in the spring, when
its trees should be in bud.
“This is one of the best examples of a successful
public/private partnership,” Russell says. “And
it can help people understand what NIH does…
We’re blessed to be able to address this need. All
the stars aligned.”