Building the Family Commons: Making a Long-time Dream Come True for St. Jude Families

Janice English is a St. Jude nurse who serves as director of the Patient and Family Experience Office at St. Jude. Part of her job is bringing to life plans for the new Family Commons at St. Jude, a space created just for families to unwind and relax during treatment.

St. Jude nurse Janice English

Imagine being in a job you’re not trained to do. Confusion and loss of control are only the beginning of the difficulties you’d face.

I imagine being a parent of a child who is a cancer patient is somewhat like that. The clinical staff takes over — setting schedules, implementing diet restrictions and beginning treatment. But emotionally, parents are struggling to maintain a home at St. Jude and a home possibly in another state or country. They have an extremely ill child. They’re receiving gigabytes of information at the exact time they’re least able to receive and retain it.

I have been encountering parents thrown into this situation for more than 30 years now, and my job is to make it easier for our patient families to thrive. I’m excited about plans that St. Jude has to build a special area on campus, a Family Commons that will help our parents and patients recharge and find the resources they need to cope with their new reality. 

Thinking about how families are affected by what we do

In the midst of what we do to care for our patients at St. Jude, we try to always consider what is happening to our patients and their families and think about how it’s affecting them. For many years, St. Jude President and CEO James Downing, MD, wanted a respite space for parents and their children.

AbbVie, through an extraordinary gift to St. Jude, is making this possible.

The future of the patient and family experience was announced in December 2018 with a $50 million donation from AbbVie, a research-based biopharmaceutical company, to accelerate plans to enhance and expand patient and family-centered care at the heart of its mission.

A space where parents can be parents

St. Jude will soon begin construction on the realization of this vision. Based on research with patient families through the design-thinking firm IDEO, the St. Jude Family Commons will be a space just for patients and families — a sanctuary for them to get support from fellow families, to rest, to have fun, or just get away from the hospital for a minute.

Think fun places, like beverage and coffee stations, a playground, a hair and a nail salon.  Or more functional areas, like event spaces, nap cubbies, a business center, and drop-in childcare.  And because we at St. Jude know that art and music complement a family’s healing journey, the Family Commons will also include a “Maker Space,” complete with music and art studio and areas for youth and family projects. The St. Jude School is also using the area to expand into a 10,000 square-foot space and introduce project-based learning.

It’s a vision for a place where parents can be parents – and the ideas about what it should be will stem from patient families themselves.

The Family Commons is scheduled to open about a year after construction begins. It’s a huge step in our patients’ experience, and it gives parents an environment where they can be a parent. No medicine, no treatments, just time to get away from that and get back to being a family.

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