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Families with premature babies at WakeMed could soon get some financial help

Families with children in WakeMed’s neonatal intensive care unit have many costs – parking, food and hotel rooms – in addition to their medical bills. The Me Fine Foundation is expanding into WakeMed to help those families.
Families with children in WakeMed’s neonatal intensive care unit have many costs – parking, food and hotel rooms – in addition to their medical bills. The Me Fine Foundation is expanding into WakeMed to help those families. N&O file photo

For more than a decade the Me Fine Foundation has helped pay the bills for families with seriously ill children undergoing treatment in local hospitals.

Starting next week, the local charitable foundation will expand its services to families whose children are hospitalized in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at WakeMed Children’s Hospital, the only pediatric hospital in Wake County. It’s the first expansion for the Me Fine Foundation since it was established in 2004 to provide financial assistance and emotional counseling to families with children at UNC Children’s Hospital and at Duke Children’s Hospital.

The families that receive aid from The Me Fine Foundation have critically ill or terminally ill children who can spend weeks at a time in the hospital. The families are typically referred to the foundation by a hospital’s social workers, and they can receive assistance ranging from a $20 daily parking fee to a $1,000 monthly mortgage payment.

“That’s the kind of thing you don’t think about – the parking, the eating out – all these things add up, beside the medical bills,” said Richard Averitte, the foundation’s board chairman.

“It’s hard to say this, but sometimes we provide funeral costs to families,” he added.

The organization also funds hospital counseling programs to help parents, siblings and the young patients cope with their illness and the disruption it brings. The counseling is provided to more than 1,000 families a year.

The foundation will start at WakeMed’s NICU section, focusing on families with prematurely born infants. At some point the foundation expects to expand its presence to other pediatric services at the hospital, including the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.

The Me Fine Foundation, based in Johnston County, will help more families in 2017 than in any previous year. As of the end of November, it had already provided financial help to 225 families in 11 months, up from 176 families in all of 2016. A typical family receives $275 in help, said executive director Joey Powell.

Started in 2004 by Johnston County resident Lori Lee after her young son died of cancer, the foundation’s revenue – from donations and fundraisers – has grown nearly fourfold in recent years. Revenue has surged from $46,549 in 2009, to $397,442 in 2015, according to nonprofit tax returns the foundation has posted online.

There is no upper limit for household income, as long as the patient is treated in a hospital’s pediatric wing. The foundation covers housing costs, utility bills, utility reconnection fees, car maintenance, travel expenses, groceries, insurance costs, drug costs and basic household items.

“You get so much joy and fulfillment when you are able to help a family avoid eviction,” Powell said.

Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus visited babies and their families at WakeMed’s neonatal intensive care unit Wednesday, December 20, 2017 in an effort to spread Christmas joy to families and their babies who won't be home for Christmas.

John Murawski: 919-829-8932, @johnmurawski

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