URBANA — The Carle Auxiliary Guest House, which serves as a home away from home for families with critically ill loved ones in Carle Foundation Hospital, may be in for an expansion.
Plans aren’t finalized yet, but Carle officials would like to add up to 15 rooms to the guesthouse at the corner of Church and Orchard streets in Urbana, according to Beth Katsinas, vice president of the Carle Center for Philanthropy.
The expansion would be built on a vacant lot next to the guesthouse that Carle already owns, with a goal of having construction completed by the end of next year, Carle Foundation Hospital President Lynne Barnes said.
Fundraising for this project, projected to cost about $2.5 million, would begin after plans are finalized and approvals are secured from the city, Katsinas said.
The 12-bedroom guesthouse first opened in 2003 to provide free lodging to family members of critically ill patients at Carle.
It serves about 1,500 guests a year but has been running short on space. Last year, 287 requests for stays had to be turned down, Katsinas said.
The purpose of the guesthouse remains the same as the day it opened — to give families who don’t want to be more than steps away from the hospital bedsides of their loved ones a place for rest and respite.
Lodging is still free. Guests are served a continental breakfast, and grab-and-go snacks and coffee are always available, Katsinas said.
And because people rushing to a hospital bedside typically don’t take time to pack a suitcase, the guesthouse also provides such necessities as shampoo, toothbrushes and toothpaste and has a laundry facility available, she said.
The guesthouse is staffed around the clock — with some paid staff and Carle Auxiliary volunteers — to look after the guests.
“We want to make sure there is someone there at all times, all hours, to meet whatever needs the families have,” Katsinas said.
All costs of running the guesthouse are paid for from donations, she said. Proceeds from the Carle Auxiliary Gift Shop and Carle Auxiliary Resale Boutique help support the operation.
Katsinas said guests come from nearby and as far as hundreds of miles away.
For example, a Kansas couple expecting their first child was passing through this area on the way to visit family when the mom went into premature labor. They stayed at the guesthouse for nearly three months, Katsinas said.
“They were a young couple, so far from home, no family nearby, and we were able to keep them near their critically ill daughter,” she said.
Nearly half — 46 percent — of the families at the guesthouse have an infant in Carle’s neonatal intensive care unit, Katsinas said.
“So we serve a lot of new parents and new moms, and we do special things for those moms,” she said.
That includes having a breast pump available in every room. Most new moms are pumping so their infants in the NICU have breast milk, she said.
Barnes said Carle has been seeing demand grow over the past five years.
And while demand on the hospital’s intensive-care unit has risen during the pandemic, she sees other factors behind overall growth — more critically ill patients with chronic diseases, more specialties being added and more referrals to Carle from throughout the region.
“We’re just seeing the need and experiencing the demand,” Barnes said.