American Southern hospitality might be a catchphrase, but it’s a way of life at the Hospitality House of Charlotte (HHOC) in North Carolina. This 20-bedroom home offers lodging to all age patients, along with a family member or caregiver, while they receive treatment at one of the nearby world-class medical centers. Every day HHOC practices the Southern traditions of welcoming guests, showing kindness, thoughtfulness, and providing wonderful food.
Yet, Southern hospitality got put to the test when the coronavirus pandemic first hit in March 2020. HHOC Executive Director, Angie Bush says it was a challenging time. “Area hospitals were overwhelmed, patients terrified, and staff and volunteers beyond concerned,” she says.
But that would not stop HHOC from providing more than just a place to stay for families experiencing a medical crisis. It took some looking, but through the suggestion of a board member they contacted Rensair, a UK-based company that makes portable hospital-grade air purifiers. Rensair’s patented technology uses H13 HEPA filters and UV-C light to capture and also destroy bacteria and viruses, including the coronavirus family of pathogens. It was just the solution they needed to keep providing “a place between healing and home” for those in need.
Most patients staying at HHOC seek medical care related to oncology, cardiology or organ transplant services. Many guests at HHOC are travelling to Charlotte from the surrounding rural communities. Several hospitals there have closed, so for advanced medical care patients get referrals to a “big city” hospital for the exceptional healthcare they provide.
“One of the top reasons for bankruptcy is medical debt,” says Bush. “The Hospitality House of Charlotte aims to provide fair access to healthcare by offering affordable housing.” In an area where the average hotel room costs $200, the modest $45 HHOC fee, which also includes some meals, access to a fully equipped kitchen, pantry staples, refrigeration, washers/dryers, laundry supplies and parking is appreciable.
An average 94% occupancy rate means HHOC serves 340 guests each month. Some 72% of guests are from the Carolinas, but the House has served patients from 42 countries. “Some guests have stayed at HHOC for 100 days, this becomes their second home,” says Bush. “We get to know each other and become family.”
Healthy people worried about the virus, but it was beyond frightening for those with compromised immune systems. “We received many phone calls from patients expressing their trepidation,” says Bush.
HHOC was quick to put best practices in place. “We got in PPE, and closed down just long enough to install lobby Plexiglas and sanitizing stations,” says Bush. The cleaning regimen stepped up, which was already extensive as many guests are immunosuppressed. They mandated masks and instituted a six feet social distancing rule for guests and staff.
“A tremendous impact was the recommendation from the CDC that we institute a 24-hour rest period between each change of room occupant,” says Bush. From checkout to check-in, the room was vacant for 30 hours. “That drastically cut our occupancy, which meant many patients had to delay much needed medical care.”
HHOC occupants have a unique connection. They are all seeking critical medical attention, and HHOC considers community support essential. “Our mission is to create a community for patients connecting to vital medical care,” explains Bush. Guests find solace in speaking with others who are also facing medical challenges.
But the pandemic stifled that sense of community. Common areas were closed, and they turned couches towards the wall. They stopped the complimentary family-style breakfast. Volunteers came in and boxed up individual cartons of meals and put them in the fridge so guests could just take a meal and heat it up if necessary. Some guests had meals delivered from nearby shops. “Guests were eating in their rooms, which we didn’t like to see because it’s so isolating,” says Bush. “But our priority was to keep everyone safe.”
“Because of our close tie with hospital teams, we knew early on that air spread the virus more than surfaces,” says Bush. They kept vigilant mask and social distance rules and started looking at their HVAC system.
“There were problems with many of the potential solutions,” says Bush. One required trained technicians and repeat maintenance visits. Others were out of reach financially or just weren’t workable for their setup, and none offered proof that they were effective. That’s when a board member mentioned Rensair.
“Rensair was state-of-the-art with proven results and its portability was key,” says Bush. “Yesterday we ran Rensair in three vacated guest rooms and had the rooms ready for occupancy the same day–that’s huge.” They then rolled the units to the common areas and put them to work there.
Bush says Rensair is visible, yet unobtrusive. “Guests can see it and hear its gentle running sound,” she says. The physical validation that air purification is being addressed gives guests confidence. “It’s funny how people want to be near it,” says Bush. She explains Rensair cleans the entire room, but they can’t help gravitating toward it, as if being closer is reassuring.
“On June 1st we removed our occupancy restriction”, adds Sophia Zon, Programs Director at HHOC. “The Rensair units have enabled us to boost our average occupancy to 89%, with many days at 100%. We are now turning guest rooms over same day, when needed, using the units to purify the air between guests.”
HHOC hospital partners also appreciate Rensair. They say with air purification in place they are more confident referring patients. And the HHOC staff has expressed their appreciation for the extra level of protection.
“We are very proud of our relationship with Rensair,” says Bush. “To put it simply, it means life to our guests.”
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