Kathy's House To Welcome More Guests, Move Onto Grounds Of Milwaukee Regional Medical Center
A privately-funded, nonprofit house that offers discounted lodging for out-of-town adult medical patients and their families is about to double its capacity. It's also moving its location onto the grounds of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center in Wauwatosa.
Those who run Kathy's House say the changes will improve access to health care for more low and moderate income people with serious illnesses.
When Dan Krowas of Door County has needed a series of complex medical treatments at Froedtert Hospital over the last nine months, including some care he couldn't get in northeast Wisconsin, he and sometimes his wife Cherie have stayed at Kathy's House.
Cherie Krowas says that's meant a lot, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"With COVID going on and stuff, we don't feel comfortable being at a motel around a lot of people. You know that when you go to Kathy's House that everybody has been screened for the COVID, and they don't let anybody else come in. It's just the staff and the people staying there," she tells WUWM.
Plus, the Krowas family only pays about $45 a night to stay at the house, part of the home's flexible fee structure that aims to keep a medical-related stay affordable to people of differing incomes. Cherie Krowas says that price, plus the ability to cook their own food and do laundry at the house, will save her household thousands of dollars over a motel bill. That's by the time her husband wraps up two more months of staying at Kathy's House, while he gets checkups related to a stem cell transplant he's just received.
Cherie Krowas also mentions being able to meet other people getting extensive treatment. "There's been a few people there that have gone through what my husband Dan is going through. They would talk about it and say what to look for, what to do. They really helped him because he kind of knew what to expect," she says.
While the Krowas family has been able to stay at Kathy's House, more than 1,500 other potential guests have been turned away in just the last four years. That's because no space was available at the 18-room rented facility at 600 N. 103rd Street near the zoo, where the house has been located since opening nearly 20 years ago in honor of Kathy Vogel Kuettner, who had passed away due to Burkitt's lymphoma.
But $12 million in privately-raised funds have paid for a new Kathy's House that will have 36 rooms and be located on the southwest edge of the Regional Medical Center grounds, near 92nd and Wisconsin — much closer to the health care providers. The building formally opens its doors June 7.
A recent tour included the large new community kitchen. Kathy's House President and CEO Patty Metropulos points out a bank of freezers and refrigerators that will be available for guests to store perishables. Locked individual units can store dry foods.
"And then," Metropulos says, "we can have up to four families at a time, making dinner in this kitchen. We often refer to the kitchen and dining room as the heart of the house because that's where the guests really get to know one another."
The new Kathy's House will have more changes as well. In one of the guest rooms, Metropulos shows a very modern bathroom that complies with the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"Every guest bathroom has pull bars and a roll-in shower, as well as a flip down seat in the shower, which will be wonderful for patients who may have a bit of trouble with mobility during their treatment. Also, it's just a bigger bathroom that's easier for the patient and caregiver to navigate," Metropulos says.
Metropulos also says the new house has a separate wing for patients with compromised immune systems.
About 85% of guests at the house over the years have had cancer or are visiting a relative with cancer.
Metropulos serves on the Governor's Health Equity Council. She says with most guests coming from 50 miles away or more, Kathy's House helps reduce two barriers to health care found in smaller communities.
"One is a financial barrier. Wisconsin still leads the nation in farm bankruptcies and there's loss of economic opportunities. Then there's also where people in this country live — about 20% in rural communities. But only 3% of oncologists practice in rural communities. So, if you're a cancer patient, you have to travel to get your care," she says.
While it's possible more cancer specialists will move to rural areas, Metropulos says the new Kathy's House already plans to add two guest rooms and could someday expand further. That's unless society wants more patients with serious diseases being treated in Milwaukee on their own or their families facing high lodging bills just to be near them.