Hope Lodge To Open

December 20, 2007
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The American Cancer Society opens its 23rd Hope Lodge next month at the northwest corner of Jefferson Avenue and Cherry Street, offering free stays to out-of-town cancer patients while they undergo outpatient treatment in Grand Rapids.

West Michigan Hope Lodge is the first in Michigan, and it will serve all cancer treatment centers in the Grand Rapids service area. The lodge is equipped to provide 7,200 nights of lodging to adult cancer patients, in addition to providing visiting patients with transportation to and from treatment facilities, pharmacies and area attractions, said House Manager Karyl DeBruyn. The lodge is open to outpatients for the duration of their treatment here, she said.

The $6.8 million, 38,000-square-foot facility has 20 guest rooms, each with a private bath and two double beds, one for the patient and one for the patient’s caregiver. Complimentary parking is offered, as well. The lodge features a kitchen and dining room, common gathering spaces, laundry facilities, exercise rooms, a library with computer workstations, and meditation and reflection rooms. It also houses the American Cancer Society’s regional service center. 

The goal of every Hope Lodge is to create a safe, compassionate environment where cancer patients and their families can help each other cope. The free lodging helps lighten their load, In the past, the only option for out-of-town patients was typically a hotel, DeBruyn said.

Teresa Schaal, major gifts officer for the American Cancer Society Great Lakes Division, said hotel stays in cities with cancer treatment centers generally cost $80 to $150 or more, which can make it cost-prohibitive for those who have to stay for multiple days or even weeks at a time. On top of that, they face the costs of restaurant meals and transportation services. 

“One of the things we’ve heard is that there are people who elect not to get treatment because of the costs with travel and lodging,” Schaal pointed out. “They don’t want to burden their families with that kind of financial stress. We think that’s unacceptable and that everybody should have access to care.” 

Hope Lodge offers patients an opportunity to stay nearby their treatment facility and to meet and develop relationships with other people battling cancer. Patients who stay at a Hope Lodge tend to develop strong networks among themselves, DeBruyn said. Hope Lodge offers resources such as cancer information, access to the Cancer Survivors Network, and on-site support groups and programs. In its Reach to Recovery program, for instance, breast cancer survivors provide support and share their experiences in one-on-one visitations with women diagnosed with breast cancer.

A couple of months ago, DeBruyn visited four of the Hope Lodges around the country.

“I was very impressed with how much that environment gave support and encouragement to patients, and I really believe that aids in their healing,” she noted. “Really strong relationships and networks are made among the patients themselves.” 

As always, the American Cancer Society depends on volunteers to fulfill its mission. DeBruyn said Hope Lodge is minimally staffed with two full-time staff and a number of part-time volunteers to provide 24-hour coverage. Volunteers serve as greeters, receptionists, drivers and cooks, they help ready the rooms for guests and coordinate activities at the lodge for both patients and caregivers.

Hope Lodge is considered a complement to the local oncology community. Thomas Gribbin, M.D., director of Saint Mary’s Lacks Cancer Center, said one of the hardest things for cancer patients to do is to travel. A patient may feel sick or tired, and some treatments, such as radiation therapy, can take up to six weeks of daily treatment.

“If you live 60 to 100 miles away, that’s a daunting task that leads some people to opt out of treatment that they could benefit from,” Gribbin said. “Hope Lodge gives people a place to stay that’s close, and more important than that, puts them in a community of other patients that are receiving cancer care, and that is tremendously supportive. That support is priceless.”

Saint Mary’s Health Care donated the land for Hope Lodge in April 2002, not long after Philip H. McCorkle Jr. was hired as president and CEO. At the time it was donated, the land was valued at $950,000, Schaal said. Gribbin said nonprofits don’t give away things, so the notion of giving away land is very difficult to perceive. But he said Saint Mary’s saw the need to support its own cancer patients and other cancer patients in the region, and the lodge was a great way to do that.

It was very clear to McCorkle that the donation would help solidify a great partnership between the American Cancer Society and Saint Mary’s, recalled Micki Benz, vice president of development at Saint Mary’s.

“He made that happen, and he made it happen very quickly,” Benz said. “We were thrilled to donate that land. We saw it as a tremendous benefit, since more and more of our cancer patients are coming from farther away.”

Hope Lodge’s location, Benz said, is tremendous, too, because of its proximity to Saint Mary’s Lacks Cancer Center.

“If I live in Reed City, Mich., and I’m staying here, I can look out and see the cancer center where my loved one is. It’s very comforting,” Benz remarked. “For us, the lodge is a wonderful complement, and we think it will promote healing, reduce anxiety and create more comfort.”

Schaal said the project’s $6.8 million capital campaign was surpassed in April, with nearly $7 million raised. The American Cancer Society is now in the pre-campaign planning process for an operational endowment to support the ongoing operation of the lodge, she said.

Hope Lodge was built to LEED certification standards.     HQX

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