The nitty-gritty of mercy

From cheap hotel rooms to free rides, patients find crucial help in Chicago

By Terri Yablonsky Stat

Special to the Tribune

March 30, 2008

Over the last year, Julie Edwards has made 30 trips to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago from her East Lansing, Mich., home. Like many cancer patients, she chose to seek medical treatment away from home.

The stress of undergoing treatment, let alone from a distance, was made much easier by finding lodging at very affordable rates. She and husband Joe have stayed at the Days Inn in Lincoln Park, the Westin Michigan Avenue, the Drake Hotel and the Inn of Chicago on Ohio, sometimes on a moment's notice.

It was all made possible through the American Cancer Society, which offers patients who travel for treatment free to significantly discounted rates at area hotels. "If it weren't for the American Cancer Society, I would not have been able to get this treatment," said Edwards, a mother of three, two of whom are in college.

Fortunately, there is support for patients and their families who seek medical treatment in Chicago from outside the area. It's a safety net for people who often are living out the worst drama of their lives, and such practical things as a hotel room or a free ride can seem like a godsend.

Following is a list of resources for patients and their families who must come into the Chicago area for treatment:

American Cancer Society

Through its Patient Navigator Program, the cancer society contracts with hotels for discounted rates. This discount applies to those who must travel even just 50 miles or so, for example, for daily radiation. That means patients on the edges of the metropolitan area would qualify. They must contact their hospital social worker or call 800-227-2345 to get the discounted rate. The society also provides rides to treatment within the area, arranges taxi service and gives train tickets. Visit cancer.org.

Ronald McDonald House

Ronald McDonald House provides a homelike atmosphere for families of seriously ill or injured children under age 21 who travel from home for treatment at nearby hospitals. In Chicago, there are houses near the University of Chicago Medical Center, Loyola University Medical Center and Children's Memorial Hospital. A fourth house is under construction near Advocate Hope Children's Hospital in Oak Lawn, set to open in late 2008.

The houses include kitchen facilities and private bedrooms. Families are asked to make a donation of $5 to $25 per day. If that is not possible, they stay for free. Visit rmhc.org.

Children's Memorial Hospital

Ronald McDonald House at Children's Memorial Hospital serves 21 families of hospitalized children every night. They also serve families of children who have been discharged and still require treatment. Families must live more that 10 miles from the hospital.

Kohl's House is a home away from home for children who have had recent transplants and their families. It is owned and operated by the hospital. Visit childrensmemorial.org for information and for a list of area hotels offering reduced rates.

Joe's House

Joe's House provides discounted lodging for patients and families in and around major medical centers. Its Web site provides a centralized list of lodging facilities, costs and proximity to medical centers. Visit joeshouse.org.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital

Through its Hoptel Service, Northwestern offers discounted rates at local hotels for any length of stay. The program serves patients and their friends and family. The Worcester House, for example, provides dorm-like rooms for a flat rate of $75 cash per night. Discounted parking is offered for all outpatient visits and some in-patient visitors. Call 312-926-7666.

Evanston Northwestern Healthcare

The Critical Care Family Assistance Program offers hotel stays and rental cars at reduced rates for out-of-town families of patients in intensive care at Evanston Hospital, Glenbrook Hospital and Highland Park Hospital. Food vouchers and free parking also are given to families. It's supported by ENH, the CHEST Foundation and the Eli Lilly Co. and Foundation. Call 847-570-1810.

Advocate Lutheran General Hospital

Advocate Lutheran General Hospital has four furnished apartments across the street available for rent to patients' families who live outside the immediate area at a rate of $50 per night with free parking. Two local hotels also offer discounted rates of $58 and $59 per night (Baymont Suites and Hampton Inn).

The hospital also provides meal passes for the cafeteria through the social work charitable fund as well as gift cards for Jewel, Target and Shell. They also have a clothing supply (both new and gently used) in adult and children's sizes in case clothing has been cut off for treatment. Call 847-723-6105.

University of Chicago Medical Center offers access to reduced-price hotel services at uchospitals.edu/visitor/hotel.

Comer Children's Hospital has fold-out beds in patient rooms. The hospital also has nine rooms near the neonatal intensive-care unit where parents can sleep and shower. Two blocks from the hospital is a new Ronald McDonald House, with 22 rooms and laundry facilities, kitchens, chapel and playrooms.

Rush University Medical Center has two apartment buildings for patients who travel for treatment. Call 312-942-5050.

Angel Flight Central

Pilots donate time, aircraft and fuel to transport children and adults who cannot afford to travel long distance for treatment. Volunteer pilots serve patients from Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota and will coordinate travel for them anywhere in the country. Visit angelflightcentral.org.

Miracle Flights for Kids

The organization flies children and adults with cancer and debilitating diseases to specialized treatment centers across the country. Any child or adult needing medical treatment or seeking a second opinion not available in his area may apply. Visit miracleflights.org or call 800-359-1711.

Lotsa Helping Hands

This free, Web-based service helps patients and families organize their network of family and friends to manage a household back home during medical treatment. Visit lotsahelpinghands.com.