Tuesday, July 3, 2007

A place for relatives to rest


A short-term resting place for families of severely ill Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital patients is within a block of the hospital and doesn’t boast a “low” $120 per-night fee.
It’s not the locally founded Motel 6 or even a Hilton, but is a small cottage with a quaint and colorful garden area that consists of six small studio apartments, each named after a flower -- sunflower, poppy, tulip, iris, daffodil, rose -- and caters to those who’s luck is well, less than at par.
For those people, most of whom have loved ones in the adult ICU (intensive care unit), cardiac care unit, pediatric ICU or neonatal ICU, The Little Cottage, operated by Hospital Hospitality Houses of Santa Barbara, County, Inc., is the only thing separating people in need of a soft bed from sleeping in their cars.
And according to Mark Gaffney, director of The Little Cottage, a good night’s rest for the family who need to help hospitalized loved ones heal, is just what the doctor ordered.
“The family members need to be rested and in a positive frame of mind,” Gaffney said. “Statistically it speeds healing to have active family involvement,” which Gaffney said is a lot harder to muster when sleeping in a car.
Founded in 2000 by a group of community members and hospital employees who Gaffney said “just knew there was a need for this sort of thing,” The Little Cottage provides shelter for about 1,500 families each year.
About 70 percent of the families who utilize The Little Cottage are from north Santa Barbara County, distances Gaffney said are too far for family members to commute on a daily basis.
He said 60 percent of the people who spend their nights there have a child in the hospital.
“It’s a short-term resting place for families in crisis,” Gaffney said. “We are generally full.”
Because Cottage Hospital is one of the largest hospitals between Los Angeles and San Francisco, Gaffney said anyone injured badly in that roughly 380 mile gap, ends up at Cottage, and many don’t have any money.
He said usually a nurse or a spiritual representative in the hospital will see the need and recommend a family to Gaffney, who lives on site.
At that point, people generally stay for about three nights, but Gaffney said in some situations, people are allowed to stay longer. He said the unfortunate part of his job is when the demand is too high, and he is forced to prioritize by the severity of a patient’s injury and the need of a family.
“We always do try to accommodate families,” Gaffney said.
The Little Cottage itself, located at 2407 Bath Street, is owned by Cottage Health System and leased to Hospitality Houses for a nominal fee.
Gaffney said a $25 donation is requested, but a person would not be turned away if they couldn’t come up with that amount.
Gaffney said other hospitals around the country provide similar services, but “most do nothing as handy as this.” He also said The Little Cottage is the only facility of its kind between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Built in 1929 for a retired local school teacher, the main house, which consists of Gaffney’s office and a lobby, was called the “Rose Lady’s Cottage” because of a wild rose garden growing on the front lawn along Bath Street.
In order to secure a line of funds in retirement, Gaffney said the woman built the six studios and rented them out primarily to nursing students and hospital employees.
Her rose garden, which had a sign urging those visiting patients in the hospital to pick a flower and deliver it to the patients, had a legacy that lives on.
Gaffney said the garden was the inspiration behind naming the rooms, which no longer have kitchen appliances due to insurance issues, after flowers.
The “rose room” features rose wallpaper and bedspread printed with roses. The toys in the main house are donated by local businesses and Gaffney said each room was sponsored by a local organization, who helped furnish the rooms.
For Gaffney, who is earning his Ph.D. in Physiology at UC Santa Barbara, The Little Cottage has turned into an unexpected seven-year love affair, which affords him the opportunity to help people in emotionally challenging situations.
“I wanted a job where I could work with people in crisis,” Gaffney said. “I really do enjoy the work that I do here.”
Gaffney said recommendations by hospital staff aren’t the only way to find a spot in The Little Cottage. He said people can call ahead of time and as long as they meet the criteria and space is available, they can stay.
For someone that helps provide a much needed boost for people in a pinch, Gaffney said he’s still “always amazed at how appreciative people are.”
The number at The Little Cottage is 805-563-4753. Contact can also be made by e-mail at thelittlecottage2@earthlink.net.

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