Richards gift keeps family nearby

At the first light of morning while her family slept, Marie Richards would quietly leave her home and drive 80 miles to the hospital where her 5-year-old son was being cared for after a traumatic injury.

She’d spend the entire day at her son’s bedside, offering the kind of support only a mother can provide. Then, well after midnight, she would get back in her car and make the long drive home, allowing herself a few hours of much-needed rest before getting up and readying herself for another long drive and another full day by her son’s side.

For five months she held fast to that routine until she was able to make that drive home and take her son with her.

That was 40 years ago, when Tom Richards’ brother, Terry, was hospitalized after a car accident, but Tom remembers the emotional toll it took on his entire family, especially his mother, having his brother being cared for so far away.

And now, with a $500,000 initial gift, Richards envisions making things a little bit easier for those trekking back and forth to visit family at the hospital in the near future.

The plan calls for a 17,000-square foot, two-story house across the street from Community Regional – known as Terry’s House – consisting of 20 guest rooms to provide patients’ families with convenient and affordable lodging while their loved ones receive critical care.

“My experience occurred a long time ago, but my situation is not so dissimilar to that of so many other families,” said Richards, chief executive officer of The Penstar Group. “I’ll bet there isn’t one person out there who hasn’t had a friend or family member go through an experience similar to mine.”

Thousands of people are brought to the Table Mountain Rancheria Trauma Center and Leon S. Peters Burn Center at Community Regional each year. Hospital waiting rooms, hallways and patient rooms often overflow with concerned family members and close friends who do not want to leave the patients’ sides.

“Last year alone, the burn center performed more than 9,800 burn therapy procedures, and nearly half of their patients were children,” Richards said. “Those kids need their parents nearby at such a critical time.”

The emotional toll of having a loved one in intensive care is hard enough, but Richards knows first-hand that when home is many miles away, it provides an even heavier burden on families. Medical costs, hotel stays and dinners out can be extremely taxing. So when representatives from Community Medical Foundation approached Richards and described their desire to build a “home away from home” for families of burn and trauma patients at Community Regional, he didn’t hesitate to put his support behind the project.

“They laid out the idea and I thought it was just incredible,” Richards said. “I thought it was a great idea and one that we really need in this area and I knew that I needed to get behind it and really support it.”

The hope is that Terry’s House, named in honor of Richards’ brother, will provide a safe-haven for these families where they can rest, relax and recharge. In his travels, Richards had seen similar facilities at major medical centers across the country, and recognized the need for one in the Valley.

“Community has become a world-class institution in our own right. We’ve got all the tools and technology. We’ve got nationally recognized physicians and the only burn center and Level I trauma center between Los Angeles and Sacramento,” he said. “The burn and trauma centers serve a region comparable to the area of Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey combined. If you consider this, plus the projected population growth for our area, you quickly realize that this is a real necessity.”

Richards breathed life into the project by giving an initial gift of $500,000, and then signed on as the voluntary developer and construction manager of the project. Since then, others have joined, including KMPH Fox 26.

“The exposure so far has generated an overwhelmingly positive response from people we knew, as well as from people with whom we were not yet acquainted,” Richards said. “I’ve gotten great support from sub-contractors and trades that all want to contribute time and money to the project. We have people calling and asking how they can contribute.”

Richards attributes the enthusiasm to people understanding the need for such a facility.

“This is one of those projects where there are no losers,” he said. “You can contribute and feel good about what you’re doing, knowing that you are helping a family when they need it the most.”

“But we still are going to need a lot of help,” he added. “Our first step is to get it built with no debt.  Second is to be able to operate it annually through an endowment that self-funds the house so that we only ask the families that stay there for a minimal contribution towards their stay.”

Community Medical Foundation is launching a campaign to raise $3 million to build Terry’s House and $7 million to establish an endowment to operate and sustain the home.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for January of 2008, with an expected completion of spring 2009.

“When you’ve had the experience that I’ve had first-hand, you know just how much this project is going to mean to a patient, a family, and really, to the whole community,” Richards said. “The bottom line is that this is an extremely easy project to support, and I’ll be looking forward to a need for an expansion sometime in the near future.”

This story was reported by Suzanne Crosina-Sahm. She can be reached at MedWatchToday@communitymedical.org.