Frances Ferguson and the other foster grandparents transferred earlier this month from their assignments at the Hospital for Sick Children returned to the institution this week after the hospital announced it had received enough money from contributions to reinstate them.
A June 30 article in The District Weekly reported that the special bonds between the hospital's foster grandparents and the young patients there were being broken because of a minor funding problem: the cost of lunches for the foster grandparents.
Both the hospital and the program's new local sponsor, the Metropolitan Washington Council of the AFL-CIO, said they could not absorb the $5,000 annual cost of the lunches. The foster grandparents receive the meals, free transportation and $40 a week as compensation for their work in the federally funded program.
According to hospital spokesmen, after the article appeared the hospital received several calls from concerned citizens, First Lady Nancy Reagan among them. Many offered to help raise or donate funds necessary to prevent the transfer. The United Black Fund pledged $5,000.
Early this week, hospital administrator James Bellor said six private donors had given $940 in addition to the UBF pledge.
Calvin Rolark, director of the United Black Fund, said the organization approved an emergency grant for the hospital because "it so happens that the bulk of those youngsters are black and our purpose is to alleviate ills that affect black and poor people."
Rolark said that in making the donation, the UBF was also making a long-term commitment to the hospital's foster grandparents program. He said UBF will continue to make substantial contributions on a yearly basis.
"We'll be pleased to have them back," said James Bellor about the foster grandparents. Some of them have worked at the hospital at 1731 Bunker Hill Rd. NE for the last five years.
The area's only long-term care facility for severely deformed, profoundly retarded and terminally ill children, the 80-bed hospital also offers instruction and out-patient therapy for young victims of accidents, child abuse and inherited illnesses.
The foster grandparents left the hospital July 2 after a two-day reprieve in the wake of last-minute efforts by the hospital and the program's sponsor to prevent the move.
Hospital administrators maintained that the institution, dependent on Medicaid, private donations and fund-raisers, could not afford to provide the lunches. Most of the patients are wards of the city or members of families that cannot afford the high cost of long-term care.
In the past, the United Planning Organization sponsored the hospital's foster grandparent program and reimbursed the facility up to $3,000 a year for the cost of the lunches. When the labor council assumed administration of the hospital's program this spring it applied its own longstanding policy, however, requiring individual facilities throughout the city to pay for the lunches of the foster grandparents assigned to them.
Nationally, the Foster Grandparent Program involves more than 18,000 senior citizens in 238 projects. Washington has 135 foster grandparents working with children in group homes, day-care centers, hospitals and institutions.
For the past 15 years the program has been a pet project of Nancy Reagan.
Reagan telephoned the hospital June 23, according to her press secretary, Sheila Tate, after reading the District Weekly article that detailed the funding problems and their impact on special relationships such as that between foster grandparent Frances Ferguson and Danny, a mentally retarded and physically crippled 8-year-old who has been at the Hospital for Sick Children for five years.
Tate said Reagan spoke with administrator Bellor and expressed her concern that such special relationships not be disrupted.
Apparently they won't be. After Ferguson's first day back at the hospital, she was busy with duties in the hospital unit she is assigned to, and did not have time to visit with Danny, but she has kept tabs on him.
"He's all right," she said, "I'll be seeing him."