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Free/Low-Cost Travel Expenses During Cancer Treatment

A look at valuable resources that can help patients and their loved ones alleviate the financial burden of paying for lodging while undergoing treatment.
October 2017 Vol 3 No 5
Meeri N. Kim, PhD

Sometimes a patient’s best chance for survival requires traveling to another city, state, or even country. But travel costs can quickly add up, especially when it comes to lodging. If an average hotel room costs about $75 to $150 per night, the bill for a month-long treatment can easily skyrocket to thousands of dollars.

Based on the National Cancer Database, which is sponsored by the American Cancer Society and the American College of Surgeons, it is estimated that each year, more than 250,000 people travel more than 40 miles to receive cancer treatment away from home.

Fortunately, resources for patients and their loved ones do exist to help alleviate the financial burden of paying for lodging while undergoing weeks or even months of treatment. Programs such as Hotel Keys of Hope, Hope Lodge, and others listed below provide rooms, suites, and houses for little or no cost, so that patients can focus on getting better. The amenities range from fully equipped kitchens to transportation to home-cooked meals. Check out these resources to see what option may best fit your needs and geographic location.

Hotel Keys of Hope

In 2013, Extended Stay America—the largest owner-operated hotel brand in the United States—partnered with the American Cancer Society to establish the Hotel Keys of Hope program. Through this program, they offer free and deeply discounted rooms to patients with cancer who are receiving treatment away from home.

To date, the Hotel Keys of Hope program has provided more than 120,000 hotel stays in various locations throughout the country to more than 15,000 patients with cancer. Extended Stay America hotel rooms feel like apartments and allow patients to live as they would at home, with fully equipped kitchens, free in-room wifi, on-site guest laundry, and pet-friendly rooms.

To be eligible for the program, patients must be in active cancer treatment and live more than 40 miles or more than 1 hour away from where they receive care. Financial means are assessed to determine whether the patient receives the hotel room for a 25% discount, reduced rate ($19 per night), or for free. The hotel stays can be up to 2 weeks, but exceptions for a longer stay are sometimes granted for special circumstances.

Hope Lodge

The American Cancer Society opened the first Hope Lodge in 1970 to offer patients with cancer and their caregivers free temporary accommodations in Charleston, SC. Today, the Hope Lodge program has expanded to more than 30 locations in the United States and Puerto Rico. More than 44,000 guests stayed at Hope Lodges in 2014, saving patients and families $36 million in lodging expenses.

With the Hope Lodge program, the American Cancer Society hopes to provide more than just a room to patients; these places are designed as a supportive and nurturing environment with homelike amenities.

Patients who live more than 40 miles or more than 1 hour away from their treatment center are eligible to participate. Average stays at Hope Lodges range from 4 weeks to 6 weeks.

Joe’s House

When Ann Calahan’s husband passed away in 1997, after battling cancer for 6 years, she started a nonprofit organization to help traveling patients and their loved ones find affordable places to stay near their hospitals and treatment centers.

Calahan launched a website in honor of her late husband and called it Joe’s House; the website lists thousands of lodging options for patients with cancer. The nonprofit organization works closely with well-known hotel partners—such as Best Western, Wyndham Hotel Group, InterContinental Hotels Group, La Quinta, and Red Roof Inn—to provide medical discounts for patients.

Joe’s House is not a physical house but rather a website that consolidates local accommodation options specifically catered for patients with cancer. Eligibility criteria to participate vary among the participating hotels. The discounts range from 10% to 20% off best-available rates at the time of booking.

Healthcare Hospitality Network

Founded in the early 1980s, the Healthcare Hospitality Network is a nationwide professional association consisting of almost 200 nonprofit organizations. The main mission of this organization is to provide lodging and support services to patients who are receiving medical treatment far from home.

Its hospital hospitality houses—which range from small houses to houses with more than 100 guest rooms—provide free, or significantly reduced cost, lodging that includes shared kitchens, common living areas, and private bedrooms.

You can use the Healthcare Hospitality Network website to search for lodging near your hospital or treatment center. Each hospital’s hospitality house has its own eligibility criteria and its own cost for a night of stay.

Ronald McDonald House Charities

For families that must travel far from home to get treatment for their children, Ronald McDonald House Charities has more than 300 locations that allow them to stay close for little to no charge. Families enjoy home-cooked meals, private bedrooms, and playrooms for children.

Pediatric patients must typically be under age 18, although some locations will accept patients up to age 21. The costs include a donation of up to $25 per day, depending on the facility and the family income.

Families interested in Ronald McDonald House Charities should contact the social service department at the hospital where their child is receiving care to be placed on a waiting list.

Fisher House Foundation

Overall, 72 Fisher Houses exist across the country for families of patients receiving medical care at major military and VA medical centers. Families pay no money to stay in a Fisher House. Typically, the houses are 5,000- to 16,800- square-foot homes that are designed to provide 8 to 21 suites and can accommodate from 16 to 42 family members.

Fisher Houses feature a common kitchen, laundry facilities, dining room, and a living room with library and toys for children. The program began in 1990 and has since served more than 305,000 families, saving them (together) more than $360 million in lodging and transportation costs.

Eligibility to participate in a Fisher House, priorities, and patient selection criteria are determined by the commander or director of each medical center where the Fisher House is located. In most cases, the homes are located within walking distance of the treatment facility; when that is not the case, they provide transportation between the house and the facility.

Patient Resources

Hotel Keys of Hope
http://www.extendedstayamerica.com/acs-partnership
Hope Lodge
http://www.cancer.org/treatment/support-programs-and-services/patient-lodging/hope-lodge.html
Joe’s House
http://www.joeshouse.org
Healthcare Hospitality Network
http://www.hhnetwork.org
Fisher House Foundation
http://www.fisherhouse.org
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Last modified: October 31, 2017