When Fred Baggott was transferred to Mission Hospital with a life-threatening infection, his wife, Luann, worried she would have to choose between driving two hours each way to their home in Robbinsville or sleeping in his hospital room.
“Hotels are expensive, and we just couldn’t afford that,” she says.
Then she learned about an alternative that would allow her a good night’s sleep and provide camaraderie with others who were in her same situation — worried, scared and tired.
After two restless nights in the hospital, Luann Baggott got a room at the Rathbun House, where she was able to socialize or just close the door and rest.
Rathbun House, founded 25 years ago by the late Adelaide Key, is a nonprofit offering a place to stay for people with family members in the hospital — it serves Mission, the Charles George VA Medical Center, Pardee and AdventHealth Hendersonville hospitals and CarePartners.
Guests have rooms that sleep up to four family members and provide a place to store and prepare food. Although Rathbun House doesn’t supply food, many donors do, so there’s always something to prepare for hungry family members. “We do have a lot of pizza deliveries here,” says Caryl Dean, manager of Rathbun House.
Since its opening, Rathbun House has been a nonprofit. In 2013, it became a part of Mission Health, which itself was a nonprofit. When Mission was sold to HCA Healthcare last year, the nonprofit no longer could be part of the system, so it and other nonprofit entities of Mission were spun off to form MountainCare. Services there include grief support services, adult day services and music therapy, and are funded by the WNC Bridge Foundation, formerly CarePartners Foundation, and other system legacy foundations including the Pisgah Health Foundation and the Nantahala Health Foundation.
Guests must live outside Buncombe County and be referred to Rathbun House by a local hospital. Many guests find themselves needing a refuge in the city when family members are transferred from smaller hospitals in communities such as Transylvania, Jackson, Swain and Cherokee counties and from Tennessee and South Carolina.
A referral form remains on the Mission website, even though the house is no longer is part of Mission. So far, Dean says, no one seems to notice any difference in the services at Rathbun House.
The 30,000-square-foot building offers 36 rooms and is filled to capacity most of the year. “We’re a little low in December and January because, although people still have emergencies during these months, not many people schedule elective surgery during the holidays,” Dean says.
Dean often asks guests what they think as they drive onto the nearly 18-acre property, which is surrounded by forest. Most people tell her they love the seclusion and being in the midst of nature.
“Adelaide thought of everything,” she says. “Putting Rathbun House here was very deliberate. Nature is nurturing, and people who come here need that calm.” For example, she says, each wing also has a common room with a television; there are no televisions in the guest rooms. “That was so that people wouldn’t just isolate,” Dean says.
Luann Baggott appreciated the ability to go to her room and relax, but she also enjoyed socializing with others in similar circumstances. “Everyone was so wonderful,” she says. “It helped to have people around me who understood what I was going through. Hotels are expensive and they offer just a room. This is so much more.”
The house also has a separate area for families with young children, so parents don’t need to worry that their children might disturb others. The wing includes a playroom.
Elizabeth Williams, executive director of MountainCare, believes it’s important to keep these nonprofit former elements of Mission intact. “Having a free place to stay is so important for people while a loved one is hospitalized,” she says. “They have enough to worry about.”
People can stay free up to 14 nights and then they can pay just $30 a night — a fraction of the cost of a hotel room in Asheville. The approximately 4,500 people who stay at Rathbun House in the course of a year stay an average of three to four nights, Dean says.
Rathbun House is one of about 210 hospitality houses across the country, the best-known of which are the Ronald McDonald Houses. The local facility is named for Dr. Lewis Rathbun, who practiced obstetrics and gynecology in Asheville. Key, a prominent local philanthropist and cancer survivor, realized that family members of patients, as well as patients who came to Mission for outpatient treatment, needed a place to stay that wouldn’t cost them anything and would offer solitude, comfort and, when needed, the companionship of people in like circumstances. She assembled a board of directors, which raised $3 million to buy the land and build the house. Key died in August 2014.
“She planned everything down to the smallest detail,” Dean says. “And she thought of everything.”