Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House, 1815 S. Ponce de Leon Ave., NE, Atlanta. Photo contributed by Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House.
Photo: Picasa
Photo: Picasa

Hospitality house provides refuge during medical crises

The Atlanta Hospital Hospitality House has long been a refuge for those going through a medical storm.

As a nonprofit since 1980, the beautifully-restored 10-room house and cottage are on a retreat-like setting off Ponce De Leon Avenue. It offers an affordable respite for anyone having to travel 40 miles or more into Atlanta for medical care.

“The beauty here overwhelms you,” said Ruth, a guest from Rome who asked that her last name not be used. “You meet the staff, and their compassion overwhelms you. And then you meet your fellow journeymen, and the sense of community brings you a sense of joy.”

Facing multiple weeks of radiation treatments at Emory University Hospital earlier this year, Ruth said she didn’t want to burden her family with the back-and-forth travel. At the hospitality house, she bonded quickly with others going through their wellness journeys.

“Without saying anything, each of the guests here knows what the other is feeling. And you can talk about your situation here and not burden anybody,” Ruth said. “You hug, and you pray. It is the greatest sense of community I have ever experienced.”

People from around the country stay at AHHH, and they come for every medical reason, including car accidents, strokes and care for those with autism, said director Melissa Ehrhardt. Some choose Atlanta because of the quality of medical care that’s available, and others because their rural hospital can no longer provide services.

“The people who stay here are stressed, they’re overwhelmed. The average person isn’t prepared for a medical crisis,” Ehrhardt said.

The average stay is 13 nights, but some stay six to eight months. Rent starts at $25 a night for a dormitory-style room. Private rooms are available, and weekly and monthly rate discounts can be arranged, Ehrhardt said. Last year, AHHH gave away $35,000 in rent to those in need.

The price also includes access to a washer and dryer, a well-stocked community kitchen, and a home-cooked meal every evening.

The dinner is almost always prepared by groups of volunteers, most of whom hang around to eat and interact with the guests.

Meal prep is a favorite team-building activity for corporations and a time of bonding for groups, ranging from book clubs and bowling leagues to church groups and scouts. And students — from elementary to college — also find their way in the kitchen, sometimes with a little help from AHHH staffers.

Petro Kacur, a longtime volunteer at the hospitality house, likes to cook and frequently asks friends to join him in this service. He said it is heart-warming to hear from guests how much they enjoy a home-cooked meal after spending a long day at the hospital.

“Sometimes people open up and share their stories,” he said of the dinner conversations.

“These people go to the hospital by day as patients hoping to find a cure. In the evening, they come home to the hospitality house, and they’re certain of finding community,” Kacur added.

Chip Fincher, another longtime volunteer with AHHH, said he volunteered, thinking his job was to prepare a great meal. Through the years, he now realizes the most important role he can play is to interact with the guests and give them a sense of normalcy at a time when their world has turned upside down.

Fincher often sits with guests in common areas to play games or watch movies. Many want to be useful and help him fold laundry or clean tables. He and other volunteers make holidays and birthdays special celebrations.

“The real benefit of the hospitality house is, when you’re going through a medical crisis, your world stops while everyone else’s goes on. Everyone here understands that. It’s a community that makes sense to them,” Fincher said.

Hospitality house staff are also pulled into that community.

“Sometimes you are the first person who gets the news that they’ve lost their loved one, or that they’re cancer-free,” Ehrhardt said. “We cry often. We don’t ever want to get to the point where we aren’t affected by somebody’s story.”

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