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Family suite allows families, burn victims to focus on recovery

family suite

The family suite at the Bridgeport Hospital Burn Center allows the families of burn victims to stay on-site which experts say aids in patients’ recovery.

Known across the state, the Connecticut Burn Center is one of the jewels of Bridgeport Hospital. One facet of that jewel is the center’s family suite. 

Now a fixture of the Burn Center and an example of the hospital’s commitment to caring for patients as well as their families, the family suite was born from a desire to assist families of firefighters who were burned in the line of duty.

“It all started back in 2006,” said Steve Lupinacci (retired) of the Stratford Professional Firefighters Burn Foundation. “There really weren’t a lot of burn survivor support programs that help both the survivors and their families. The idea came about when we were on a tour of a New York City burn center that had a family suite. It wasn’t something you could sleep in, but it had a little kitchenette and some furniture.”

It was after that visit that Lupinacci’s group brought the idea of a family suite to Bridgeport Hospital. However, the group wanted to expand the concept to provide a self-contained space where families could reside for extended periods.

The Connecticut Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital is the state’s only burn center. In fact, it is one of only 62 burn centers in the United States that are verified by the American Burn Association in conjunction with the American College of Surgeons to meet the highest current standards of care for burn patients from the time of their injury through their rehabilitation. The Connecticut Burn Center treats nearly 200 inpatients and posts more than 800 outpatient visits each year. Because of its unique nature, the Burn Center receives patients from all over the state. This can place a burden on families that travel long distances to be with their loved ones during treatment.

“When we came back, we talked with Steve Jakab, president of the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation, and asked if there was any interest in bringing a family suite to the Burn Center here.” Lupinacci explained. “Our idea was similar, a space that the family of a burn victim could use, but our idea was to offer a suite that families could stay in while at the Burn Center. It would have a bedroom, a living room, a kitchenette and a bathroom/shower facility. Really make it like a little apartment.” 

There was no resistance to the idea.

“We had buy-in from just about everyone right away,” Lupinacci said. “We went to the Uniformed Professional Fireman’s Association of Connecticut and made a big pitch to them to help raise funds to build the suite. We followed that up with a big letter-writing campaign, we went on TV, we hit the street everything we could do to raise awareness and help with the funding.”

Following a successful fundraising campaign the construction phase of the project was ready to begin, and in a stroke of serendipity it timed up perfectly with a previously planned renovation of the Burn Center.

“We were able to roll this into those plans which really made the whole thing, from a construction point of view, work so much better,” Lupinacci added.

While the genesis of the family suite was a desire to help families of firefighters, it has never been off-limits to nonfirefighting families.

“It is not exclusive to that community,” Lupinacci said.

“The family suite in the Bridgeport Hospital Burn Center is available to anyone being treated there. There are criteria as to how long a family can use it and that is set by the hospital, but this really is a universal resource.”

“We are exceptionally fortunate to have the support of our Connecticut firefighters, who generously donated all of the funds needed to create the family suite in the burn unit,” said Alisa Savetamal, MD, medical director, Connecticut Burn Center. “Having this private area as a refuge during a stressful time has been invaluable to many of our families, particularly those who come from the further reaches of the state or from out of state.”

Lupinacci explained that burn injuries can present unique obstacles to treatment, and not all of them are physical. “When it comes to burns, it’s easy to focus on the physical injury, but it’s just as important to think about the nonphysical part of it,” Lupinacci said. “The stress, the anxiety and the emotional toll it takes on the patient. They often have self-esteem issues, wondering ‘Why did this happen to me,’ and having their family right there to support them is a big deal.

“Burn injuries are very debilitating. They can be life altering, and the one thing the family doesn’t want to do is leave the hospital. They want to be with their family member and what this family suite does is take some of the stress out of the situation because they know that they’ll be just down the hall. I think this does a lot for the community to be able to say that firefighters from across the state built this family suite and it is here to help people if, God forbid, they should need it."