PEORIA — Parents of children with complex medical issues will gain much-needed support when Almost Home Kids opens in September.

The 22,000-square-foot facility under construction at the former Wee Tee Golf Center in Peoria will have the equipment necessary to handle severe medical issues.

“It’s for children who require the most specialized care,” said Jennifer Shinick, executive director of Almost Home Kids at OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois. “We have clients who have feeding tubes and require ventilators. Some have traumatic brain injury, some have the more severe forms of Down syndrome. We even take hospice patients if this is determined to be the most suitable environment for them.”

The new Peoria facility is only the third of its kind in the country — the two other Almost Home Kids are in the Chicago area.

“Two mothers started it. They both had children with medical issues, and they saw the need,” said Shinick.

Children’s Hospital has been sending children to the Naperville facility for years, said Shelli Dankoff, media relations program manager for OSF.

“Our leadership was looking for options in our community and started having conversations with Almost Home,” she said. The project has been funded 100 percent by private donations, she said.

Almost Home Kids is a place where children can go after they leave the hospital while parents figure out how to take care of them at home.

“It’s a bridge between hospital and home,” said Shinick. “It’s for kids ready to go home, but home is not quite ready for them.”

Children can stay there while the necessary equipment is being readied at home. The facility also provides training so parents will be well prepared when their child comes home. And later, parents can bring their child back when they need a break - for 24 hours up to two weeks.

“I’ve had so many people call already looking for respite care,” said Shinick. “Caring for a sick child can be very challenging for families.”

With only 12 patient rooms, the facility is designed to provide a more home-like setting than a hospital.

“Children in the hospital are restricted to the hospital bed. Here they can get up or sit on the screened in porch where they can get fresh air,” said Shinick. “We’ve designed it to bring nature inside.”

The windows in one large patient room overlooked the old Wee Tee driving range, which will remain green space. Wide hallways provide plenty of space for several wheelchairs to maneuver to the community sitting area where children can socialize.

Bringing the facility to Peoria will help not only central Illinois residents. It will likely also draw patients from farther downstate. Soon parents in central Illinois will not have to make the long trip to Naperville to get a little help with their child, said Shinick.

“Traveling just adds to the stress for those parents.”

 Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.