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Cancer Society to close Hope Lodge in Buffalo for visiting patients

Hope Lodge has been offering free lodging to cancer patients and their caregivers in Buffalo since 1984, but the home away from home for many families now is scheduled to close next year.

The American Cancer Society, which operates about 30 Hope Lodges across the country, is citing financial reasons for its decision to close the Buffalo location on Jan. 15.

The organization also is closing a Hope Lodge in Worcester, Mass.

"Referrals have seen a steady and steep decline during the last three years," said Alvaro Carrascal, vice president, Health Systems, American Cancer Society Eastern Division.

He said the occupancy rate in Buffalo is down and, on average, about 30 percent of the rooms go empty. The building, although well-maintained, is part of the issue because of its age and facilities, such as shared bathrooms for some guests, Carrascal said.

"This is not a decision we came to easily, but it is necessary. We have a responsibility to use our donor dollars in an efficient way," he said.

The home -- a Queen Anne-style Victorian at 197 Summer St. -- was built in 1890 and offers 15 guest rooms close to Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Sisters Hospital, Buffalo General Medical Center and Erie County Medical Center.

Over the years, it has provided more than 150,000 nights of free lodging to 21,000 patients and their caregivers from around the country, especially the Northeast, as well as other countries, while the patients were receiving treatment in Buffalo. A cancer society website about Buffalo Hope Lodge, which will be put up for sale, lists nine staff members.

Moving forward, the cancer society will work with health providers to help meet the lodging needs of cancer patients through referrals to similar facilities in the area and the organization's Hotel Partners Program, the cancer society said in an emailed statement.

Alternatives in the area include the Kevin Guest House and the Ronald McDonald House for families with a child with cancer, as well as a handful of hotels in the area that offer discounted rates to patients and their loved ones. In addition to the lodges, the cancer society operates a hotel partner program, as well.

Carrascal said the organization is working with Roswell Park to help patients find alternatives and will consider additional options that could include a new facility.

"Everything is on the table," he said.

Annie Deck-Miller, spokeswoman for Roswell Park, said the cancer center can help patients find other options for extended stays. She also said that Hope Lodge had provided an important service, and that Roswell Park is working with Kevin Guest House, the cancer society and its fund-raising Roswell Park Alliance to secure and fund free or low-cost accommodations for families that need assistance.

Regardless, Hope Lodge left a positive impression with cancer patients and their families.

"Hope Lodge is such a great program, yet it goes largely unnoticed," said Kelli Dettmer, of Watertown. She stayed there in October when her husband, Joel, sought treatment at Roswell Park for a rare cancer of the abdomen.

"It's homey, and everyone is so welcoming. It's a place where you can be alone if you want or share your experience with others," she said. "And when you struggle financially, any kind of medical diagnosis can put a burden on you, let alone the diagnosis of cancer. The fact it is free lodging, is one burden relieved."

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