Originally created 02/15/99

Comfort House opens again



An Augusta facility serving families of critically ill patients is back in business today.

The relocated Comfort House will start accommodating families on a limited basis after being out of service since late December. The organization has been homeless while moving from its previous south Augusta location to a new one on Telfair Street.

Joe Fournier walks through the house and points out furniture donated by local furniture retailers such as Furniture Rentals Inc. and Haverty's.

"Our theory has always been to furnish it as nice as possible so people will take care of it," he said.

Mr. Fournier is president of Comfort House Inc.'s board of directors and an employee assistance counselor at Medical College of Georgia. The seven board members are also the organization's primary volunteers.

Comfort House, a non-profit charitable corporation, is supported by donations from churches, foundations, civic agencies, local businesses and individuals.

Comfort House was modeled after Ronald McDonald House, which caters to out-of-town families with children in the hospital. Both organizations stress the important role of such facilities for family members.

"The reason they stay is the support. It's like coming home at night instead of going out, getting a bite to eat and returning to a room by yourself," Mr. Fournier said. "The real worth is being able to commiserate and share experiences."

Comfort House is operated like a bed and breakfast, although guests are responsible for cleaning up after themselves.

The house has five bedrooms, including a handicapped-accessible room being refurbished by the Georgia Rehabilitation Association.

Guests are referred by hospital staff and social workers from surrounding hospitals.

With the new center, officials expect higher costs. The organization has an annual budget of about $10,000 for upkeep and a stipend for the resident manager.

The big payoff will be for people who stay in the downtown home, board member Ed Heffernan said.

"It's clearly a good move for us. This is a better facility and the convenience factor is a big plus," Mr. Heffernan said.

The old location was about 20 minutes from downtown hospitals and made transportation difficult for some families.

A private bath in each room and more space are big improvements, he said.

Facilities like Comfort House fill a void that busy hospitals cannot always provide, a former resident manager said.

"It really became a family. They really got to know each other. It was obvious they had a need to tell someone their stories -- someone who cares," said Lynn Sappington, who was resident manager for four years.

Church of the Good Shepherd on Walton Way regularly prepares microwaveable dishes for Comfort House residents. Other churches, such as Aldersgate United Methodist Church, provide financial backing.

The price for staying at Comfort House ranges from $2-$15 per family

member.

Margaret Weston can be reached at (706) 823-3217 or mweston@augustachronicle.com.