Many individuals who need specialized medical treatment are forced to travel long distances to receive that treatment. Time as well as cost of travel can place even more strain on patients and their families. Consequently countless individuals make the choice to find living accommodations close to their treatment facilities. However, the cost of these accommodations can be staggering and can take an economic toll on patients and their families. Yet what other options do patients and their families have?
One choice patients receiving treatment in Philadelphia have is Hosts for Hospitals. Hosts for Hospitals, headquartered in the Cedar Park section of West Philadelphia, assists patients and their families with their lodging needs. The organization helps to alleviate some of the cost associated with health care. On average, the hotels located near the city’s major area hospitals charge upwards of $150 per night.
Carlos Merli, the father of patient Matias Merli who is receiving treatment for brain trauma, said: “The effort of the family that we are staying with greatly appreciated because they make it possible for us to be able to afford to stay here. [That] makes it possible for our son to receive his treatment.”
Hosts for Hospitals is a non-profit organization that is funded through a mix of private donations, foundation grants, guest contributions, fund raisers and corporate sponsorships. The organization connects patients and their families with a network of host homes throughout the city. The hosts provide free clean bed and bath amenities to the patients and their families. Since the organization’s inception there have been 322 host homes that have housed patients and their families.
“To be able to have a feeling of home is a great feeling, to have a home not just a room but a home to come to after a long day of treatment I couldn’t even begin to explain how much it is cherished,” said Elke Franke the mother of patient Rosa Dominguez.
One host family, the Affles, have volunteered with the organization for seven years. They have hosted 40 different patients and their families. The families have come from all over the world. Currently, they are hosting three families from three different countries. The patient families are the Aljumailis from Iraq, the Dominguezes from Mexico and the Merlis family from Argentina.
“We have been blessed with a big house and when we heard about this program it just seemed like the right fit for us because I work at a hospital, Wills Eye, and know firsthand about the effects of the high cost of health care,” said Elizabeth Affel.
The cost of health care in America has risen dramatically over the past decade. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the cost of health expenditures in 2008 rose to $2.3 trillion, which was three times the amount in 1990. Furthermore, for many Americans the expenses of health care are not covered by medical insurance. In addition, costs that are associated with specialized health care like travel and lodging costs place an extra financial strain on patients and their families. This strain can be even more of a burden for patients coming from other countries.
The executive director of Hosts for Hospitals, Mike Aichenbaum, began the organization based on his personal experiences. Both Aichenbaum and Nancy Wimmer, who helped start the organization in 2000, have dealt with the astounding costs of lodging. In 1988, Aichenbaum was diagnosed with leukemia. His wife and children accompanied him to New York, where he received treatment for his condition. During the course of his treatment his family rented an apartment near the treatment facility. The six-month rental of the apartment totaled over $20,000. In the same year, Wimmer was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. She and her family were also forced to travel out of state for her treatment. The staggering lodging costs also afftected her family a great deal.
Many patients find out about the organization through other organizations like the American Cancer Society or through the facilities where they are receiving treatment. Jinan Aljumaili and her son found out about the program through Philadelphia’s Shriners Hospital for Children. However, some patients’ families find the organization themselves. Both the Dominguez and Merli families found the program by searching the Internet.
The service of Hosts for Hospitals is open to any patient in need. Patients are screened and must have credible character references. All hosts must go through in home training sessions. There are only four requirements for patients and their families to be eligible for the use of a host home. Patients must live a significant distance from their treatment facility that will make it difficult to travel. The patient must have a permanent home to return to after treatment. The family members accompanying the patient must be essential for support. Finally, the patient must not pose any risk to the host family. Patient families can be lodged for the entire duration of their treatment.
“For a year and a half my son has been learning how to live with his prosthetic leg because he lost his leg to a bomb. When he first lost his leg he thought his life was over but because of the generosity of this family he is very happy now,” said Aljumaili.
The benefits of this organization are not limited to just the patients and their families. For the Affles the bond that comes from hosting is invaluable. The bond that is formed between hosts and patients’ families is evident by the continued communication after treatment ends. “We went to Hungary and visited with Aaron who had been coming for treatment for seven years. We got to know him and his immediate family. We stayed with them for four days,” said host Charles Affle.
Even though many families have opened up their homes, there is still a huge need for more host homes throughout the Greater Philadelphia area. “Our vision is for every family in need of hospital-related lodging in the Greater Philadelphia area to be informed about the option of staying at a host home and have made available to them a host home suitable to meeting that family’s specific lodging needs,” Aichenbaum said.
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