A home away from home, a ray of light at St. Peter

Sunshine House eases long-term housing dilemma for patients, loved ones

Staff writerSeptember 7, 2013 

  • HO TO HELP

    To learn more about Sunshine House, including how to volunteer or donate items or to arrange a stay as a guest, call 360-493-7900.

When a loved one is dealing with a medical emergency, it’s natural to want to stay nearby.

But hotel rooms are expensive, and commuting between home and the hospital isn’t always an option.

Enter the Sunshine House on the campus of Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia.

The facility offers 24 furnished rooms for patients and family members who use health care services in the Olympia area. Guests pay $30 to $40 a night per room, and financial assistance is available.

Sunshine House also has four full RV hookups for $20 a night.

The reasons for guests’ stays vary greatly.

“It can include nursing homes, medical facilities, hospitals, doctor appointments — anything to do with the medical field,” said Jocelyn Wood, a spokeswoman for the Providence St. Peter Foundation.

The program was initiated by Altrusa International of Olympia. In 1983, a South Sound woman stayed at an Altrusa guest house in Alabama when her son was hospitalized for a medical emergency. She told her friend, Shirley Hermann Gardebring, who was with the service organization’s local chapter.

“She just thought, well, if that happened to a family here, what would the family do? What’s available?” said Shirley Pearsall, 76, of Lacey, who serves as historian for Altrusa International of Olympia. “You want to be close to a hospital whatever the emergency is.”

In February 1983, Providence St. Peter Hospital was doing renovation work, and hospital officials donated five rooms for a pilot project on the concept, she said.

“We had an open house, and a lot of people came,” Pearsall said. “So many things were donated by the public. I always say it was a gift from the community to the community.”

The occupancy rate was so high that eventually the hospital donated four more rooms for the program.

Fundraisers were held for a permanent building, and on Dec. 5, 1987, the Sunshine House opened with 10 sleeping rooms, a laundry room, a kitchen and a great room. It was expanded in May 2000. It currently averages 7,300 overnight stays a year.

Over the years, the Sunshine House has helped tens of thousands of guests.

Their back stories run the gamut, including parents of babies in need of neonatal care, patients waiting for an early morning surgery, and out-of-town guests visiting family members in long-term nursing care facilities.

“Recently I was told about a cancer patient and his living situation was a trailer house that didn’t have running water or electricity and he needed to receive his cancer treatment in a sanitary environment,” Wood said.

The man was able to stay at Sunshine House during his medical treatment, she said.

People can stay for up to 30 days — possibly longer if needed, said administrative assistant Jodi Teller.

“It depends on the situation,” she said. “We’ve had people from Japan, New Zealand, a lot of places.”

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