Parents’ Night Out: A welcome break from hospital life

While Boston may be well-known for its great cuisine, the last thing a family traveling to Boston Children’s Hospital for long-term treatment is thinking about is fine dining. When parents care for a sick child in the hospital, it can be difficult for them to leave their child’s bedside to catch some sleep, let alone to take in the local fare. For more than a year, however, Boston Children’s has been working to change that by bringing the downtown Boston dining experience into the hospital.

Parents’ Night Out is a monthly dinner event for the parents whose children have a long-term stay at the hospital. Organized for families by Executive Chef Colin Targett, the dinner is an opportunity to enjoy excellent food and return a sense of normalcy to their lives without straying too far from their child’s side. Whereas most family events organized by the hospital facilitate interaction between the entire family, Parents’ Night Out puts the focus on providing parents a little quiet time just with each other. “We have all the time in the world to talk with other parents when we’re on the floor,” jokes Jolene Spry, the mother of 6-month-old Landen, a current Boston Children’s patient.

One of the dishes available at Parents' Night Out

For Jolene and her husband, Stacy, the event was more than a welcome distraction. Landen arrived at the hospital in late January to receive treatment from Boston Children’s Esophageal Atresia Treatment Program. Since then, their child’s treatment has left the Mocksville, N.C., natives with little time to explore any dining options beyond the restaurant chains near the housing that Boston Children’s has helped coordinate for them.

The event can be even more special when it coincides with a couple’s anniversary, which can be coordinated through Child Life Services, whose staff spends a considerable amount of time with long-term patients and handles the Parent’s Night Out invites.

“They weren’t able to go out because they have a child here,” explains June Mena, a Food Services cashier who served food alongside fellow cashier Bianca Lao to a couple celebrating their anniversary at the last Parents’ Night Out. “This was kind of a make-up for that.”

Targett, who flexes his culinary muscles to prepare interesting and delicious meals not normally offered at the hospital cafeteria, credits the inspiration behind the event to a conversation among the Food Management team about the parents of long-term patients, some of whom visit the hospital for months at a time. That conversation formed the basis for what was to become the first of many Parents’ Nights Out, launched by Patient Support Director Shawn Goldrick, Center

Boston Children's staff act as servers for Parents' Night Out

for Families Director Elizabeth Harding, LLB, RN, and Child Life Services Director Beth Donegan Driscoll, MS, CCLS.  “We were thinking outside the box and decided to do something special, so the parents could have a little bit of normalcy,” Targett explains.

It’s a recipe that, for the past 18 months, has worked well and become a signature piece of Boston Children’s care for both patients and family. Jim and Becky Penn, who traveled to Boston Children’s from Schenectady, N.Y., so their 3-year-old son Collin could receive a bone marrow transplant, agree.

“It was a very nice and beautiful setting overlooking the gardens,” says Becky. “It’s nice to forget that you’re in the hospital for a couple of minutes.”