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Hope Lodge offers more than just lodging to cancer patients

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hope Lodge is located near Baptist Hospital, just north of Charlotte Avenue.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney)
NASHVILLE -- "I think this is our best-kept secret," said Harriett Stewart.

The five-story beige building sits just north of Baptist Hospital, near the intersection of Charlotte Avenue and 20th Avenue.

It is called Hope Lodge.

For cancer patients living 40 miles or more away from Nashville, it is a godsend, a free place to stay while going through cancer treatments. Last year, over 2,000 individuals used the facility, for a total of 23,000 nights of lodging.

Assuming that a hotel room in the area costs $100 a night, and with transportation costs on top of that, the American Cancer Society estimates that the facility saved cancer patients a total of $2.3 million last year, according to Jocelyn Phillips, the facility's director.

But the savings, compared to a hotel, is only part of the story.

Love and support

"The benefit is so much more than financial," said Phillips. "People really form lifelong relationships here." Cancer patients encourage each other. Phillips, whose office is right next to the main entrance, was startled earlier this summer by a cheer going up from the lobby. The residents were cheering one of their number who had just returned from a successful procedure to harvest his own stem cells.

Phillips said that the cancer patients staying at Hope Lodge are comfortable enough around their peers to sometimes do without their wigs or head wraps, normally used to cover up the hair lost to chemotherapy.

The spacious kitchen allows residents and caregivers to prepare their own meals, although all food must be kept downstairs for housekeeping reasons. Each resident has designated storage in the fridge and the cupboard area.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney)
The American Cancer Society operates 31 Hope Lodge facilities in the U.S., and the one in Nashville is one of the busiest, busier even than the lodge in New York City. Full occupancy and a waiting list are the norm. Most of the residents come from Tennessee, Alabama or Kentucky, but a few -- drawn to research-driven cancer treatment programs at Vanderbilt, Meharry or the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center -- come from other states or even other countries.

Phillips and Stewart, an ACS staffer who works with Bedford and other nearby counties, said they want to make sure that Bedford County residents and physicians know about Hope Lodge so that those who need it can be referred.

Donations help

Some think donations to the American Cancer Society and its fund-raisers, like Relay For Life or Making Strides Against Breast Cancer, go only to research. ACS is involved in research, of course, but it's also involved in patient services such as providing wigs to women who have lost their hair due to treatments.

Hope Lodge is part of that outreach.

The facility served eight Bedford County residents for a total of 142 nights of lodging during the period from Sept. 1, 2010, through July 31, 2011. On the day a Times-Gazette reporter visited the facility, there were three Bedford Countians registered. Two were at treatments, and the third was too shy to want to speak about his experience. Phillips said one of the three Bedford County residents at the facility was uninsured, making the availability of Hope Lodge even more of a blessing.

The facility has clean, motel-like double bed rooms, so that a caregiver or family member can stay with the cancer patient. The bathrooms are wheelchair-accessible with fold-down seats in the shower. The seats are not only for those who are permanently disabled but because some cancer patients find themselves so exhausted or weakened by treatment.

Many individuals and organizations have donated to the lodge; the exercise room was made possible by Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams, as evidenced by its decor.
(T-G Photo by John I. Carney)
Children who are cancer patients can stay at Hope Lodge, but children who are family members can't. There are laundry rooms on several floors, with detergent provided by the facility. The one floor without a laundry room is usually assigned to shorter-term guests, and even they are welcome to use the laundry on another floor.

Long-term stays

Guests who have treatments three or more times a week can check in to Hope Lodge for the duration of their treatments; they don't have to check in and out, even if they go home for a night. Guests with treatments fewer than three times a week check in and out as needed. Some guests have stayed as long as a year.

The rooms are cleaned in between guests or as needed; cleanliness is an issue because of the lowered resistance to disease experienced by some cancer treatment patients. Pesticides would also be an issue, and so food, which might draw pests, isn't allowed in the patient rooms upstairs. On the first floor, there's a spacious kitchen, and each family has its own designated space in cupboards and large commercial refrigerators. Meals are eaten in a dining area next to the kitchen.

Occasionally, non-profit groups or Nashville-area restaurants will bring in food for the residents. A group of local comedians comes in from time to time to entertain, as do church groups.

Volunteer support

Volunteers are a key to the facility's operation. Volunteers at Hope Lodge outnumber paid staff by at least three to one, according to Phillips. Volunteers are available to drive guests to and from their cancer treatments.

The lodge's other amenities include an exercise room, available to patients but perhaps even more important to caregivers, who spend so much time sitting and waiting. Many of the patient rooms and other facilities at the Hope Lodge were sponsored by individual or corporate donors; the exercise room was donated by Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams and is adorned with Titans logos and action photos. A resource library includes computer terminals which can be used by patients and caregivers, and there's wi-fi access throughout the building for those who have brought their own computers or tablets.

Phillips is often in contact with the Nashville locations of Ronald McDonald House and Hospital Hospitality House, two other facilities catering to out-of-town patients and their families. Sometimes, one facility which doesn't have a vacant room will be able to refer a family to one of the other two.

A portion of any general donation to the American Cancer Society goes to help fund the network of Hope Lodges, but donors can also designate a gift specifically to the facility.

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