They say home is where the heart is, and for Akron Children’s employee Amy Poder, that statement couldn’t be more true.
Having spent the better part of 1991 through 2007 bringing her daughter, Toree, to Akron Children’s Hospital for various appointments and therapies, the hospital was Poder’s second home for 16 years.
Born with cerebral palsy and Klippel Trenaunay syndrome, a rare congenital condition that affected Toree’s vascular and lymphatic systems, Poder had to make the difficult decision to have her daughter’s right leg amputated when she was 2 years old.
A part-time gymnastics coach for the better part of 17 years, Poder put her career on hold to care for her daughter as she got older.
When Toree died in September 2007 – days shy of her 16th birthday – Poder found herself mourning her daughter, but also missing the people, and the place, that had become her second family.
In March 2008, she read about a job opening at Akron Children’s Hospital’s Reinberger Family Center, a place where families can relax and escape during a child’s hospital stay. She decided to apply for the job and was hired.
In many ways, taking the job as an attendant in the respite center was like coming home to familiar surroundings and comforting faces that had helped her through some of the most difficult years of her life.
“Nothing like Reinberger existed when I was bringing Toree in for care,” Poder said. “It sounded like a great fit for me and it also helped me find a purpose after Toree died.”
Hired to cover the midnight shift, Poder switched to days after a few years and now works 2 days a week in the center and spends the other 3 answering calls for Ask Children’s, an information and physician referral line.
During her days at Reinberger she greets visitors, stocks refrigerators, does laundry, makes beds, gives directions, calls on interpreters and sometimes even lends a shoulder to cry on.
The 6,000-square-foot center, located on the 2nd floor of the hospital, features a play room, kitchen, living room with TV, quiet room, lockers, pumping rooms for breastfeeding moms, 6 overnight sleeping rooms with private baths, and shower facilities.
Poder often works in tandem with a volunteer to ensure all the needs of visitors and guests can be met.
“Since Reinberger is set up for short-term stays, overnight guests are expected to check out at 10 a.m.,” she said.
Once they’re gone, Poder gets the rooms ready for future guests.
The Reinberger center has its own linens that are separate from the hospital’s supply, as well as its own washer and dryer. When the staff isn’t using the washer and dryer, patient families can use the appliances if they need something cleaned in a hurry.
Poder estimates she washes and dries 6 loads of laundry a day.
“Clean sheets are in high demand because sleeping rooms turn into napping rooms from noon to 5 p.m. for inpatient families,” she said. “At 6 p.m. we begin check-in for our overnight guests, so if someone was napping, we need to be ready to turn the room over again.”
It’s often a full house as overnight room assignments trickle in throughout the day from hospital social workers. Since the center opened in 2008, it has accommodated almost 12,000 overnight guests.
The 5 pumping rooms are by far the busiest area of the center with more than 112,000 uses since 2008. Poder keeps busy stocking and restocking the mini refrigerators in each pumping room with snacks for the nursing moms.
“Throughout the day employees and nursing moms of patients come in to use our pumping rooms,” Poder said. “They sign in and we let them know which room is open. It’s not uncommon for us to have all the rooms full and a few people waiting.”
“One family has the freezer stocked with frozen dinners labeled with their last name,” said Poder. “If you have an inpatient who has been here for a while, it can get expensive eating in the cafeteria or a restaurant every day.”
Originally the center catered heavily to NICU families who used to be located down the hall. But that’s changed with the recent opening of the new Women’s Board of Akron Children’s Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the Kay Jewelers Pavilion.
“NICU rooms now have room for a parent to sleep at their child’s bedside, take a shower in their private room and secure things in lockers – something they couldn’t do in the old NICU space,” Poder said. “We met many of those needs for the NICU families in the center and now we hope to spread the word to other departments in the hospital that we’re here.”
Poder cites outpatient families, who come often for rehabilitative therapy or to see multiple specialists in one day, as frequent users of the center.
“Sometimes mom may need to bring siblings along to appointments and they get bored sitting in tiny waiting rooms,” she said. “We have a playroom, game tables, computers, DVDs and a library full of books to keep them entertained. Our only rule is that children must be accompanied by an adult at all times while in the center.”
With an average of 60 to 70 people using the center daily, Poder never knows what to expect.
“It’s something different every day,” she said. “Just the other day we had a respiratory therapist using our quiet room space to train 2 home care nurses on the respiratory needs of one of our patients they will be caring for after discharge.”
For families facing uncertainty or those who just need a break, Poder is a calming presence. Her pleasant demeanor and unfailing willingness to help others who likely remind her of herself during her many years as the mother of a patient, make her a perfect fit for the Reinberger Famiily Center.
“I enjoy meeting the families and developing friendships,” Poder said. “I just want to help improve their day in any way I can.”
As part of our year-long anniversary celebration, we’re telling the story of Akron Children’s through the eyes of past and present employees, doctors, donors, volunteers and patient families. We encourage you to share your own memories and stories about us.
About Kathy Johnson
Kathy Johnson is a freelance writer, editor and public relations consultant with nearly 25 years of experience in the healthcare industry.