In a potentially lifesaving partnership with the American Cancer Society, Extended Stay America (ESA) is providing 40,000 room nights over two years to cancer patients receiving treatment away from home. With the program, called Keys of Hope, ESA offers half of these rooms at no charge, with the additional 20,000 stays at only $12 a night.
“If you have to travel to another city for cancer treatment, the first thing you’re going think about is, ‘Where am I going to stay?’ The second is, ‘How am I going to pay for it?’” says Kristen Solt, vice president, Hope Lodge Network, American Cancer Society. “With the partnership, it’s a complete burden lifted and a game changer on whether or not they may receive treatment.”
The American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodges provide a free place to stay for cancer patients, but with only 31 locations, it’s limited in scope, and the rooms often run at capacity. By comparison, ESA has 632 properties in 120 markets in the United States and Canada.
“One of the key criteria to evaluate partners is we wanted to leverage our competitive strengths,” says Rick Canale, vice president, marketing strategy and planning for ESA. “We’re uniquely positioned to extend the reach of Hope Lodge because we own and operate all the properties and can make a unilateral decision.”
Discussion of the partnership began in 2012 when ESA management decided to focus its charitable efforts on a single organization, he says. The company surveyed its 10,000-plus employees for suggestions, and the American Cancer Society came in first place “by a landslide.”
In October 2013, ESA piloted the program in the high-demand areas of Atlanta, Houston, and Boston, and a few months later, the company rolled it out to 10 additional markets, he says. Making tweaks along the way, staff paid close attention to operations, reservations, and program tracking and controls. Keys of Hope went nationwide in May.
To qualify for the program, patients must be in active cancer treatment and live more than 40 miles or one hour away from where they receive care, Solt says. People’s financial means will determine whether they receive the room for free or at the deeply discounted rate. Patients stay an average of four or five nights, and although exceptions will be made, the organization tries to cap it at 14 days to benefit as many individuals as possible. Roughly 17,000 nights have been booked so far, benefiting approximately 3,070 patients and caregivers, she says. At the end of the two years, ESA will help patients save more than $4 million in total lodging costs.
Solt recalls a message from one such grateful recipient: “I travel over 500 miles for cancer treatments on a slim budget. Staying at Extended Stay was a godsend. It allowed me to be able to relax a bit and not worry about having gas to drive back home.” ESA staff have shared similar positive reactions to the partnership. One 15-year employee told Canale he has never been more proud to work for the company.
“Extended Stay has a giving spirit,” says Solt, who notes the organization partners with other hotels but none to this level. “They keep coming back to us with more, and we’re so incredibly grateful for that.”
In addition to Keys of Hope, ESA staff actively participate in the organization’s Relay for Life fund-raiser and raise money at check-in, collecting more than $100,000 to date for American Cancer Society research.
“We know this is a perfect fit,” Canale explains. “We’re in the business of providing comfortable hotel rooms, and they’re trying to break through the barriers in the cancer world. I’m hopeful this is the start of a long-term partnership.”