SALT LAKE CITY — Cancer patients and their caregivers have already started booking rooms at the nation's newest Hope Lodge, which is purposefully located near many renowned local treatment facilities.
The Hope Lodge of Salt Lake City won't officially open its doors until Oct. 1, but Thursday marked completion of construction. And with that, a new phase "of healing" can begin, said Katie Eccles, chairwoman of the Hope Lodge of Salt Lake City Campaign Board.
Supported by the American Cancer Society, the Hope Lodge provides free lodging for patients and their caregivers who travel to the area to receive various cancer treatments, imaging procedures or for routine doctor visits. Since "cancer is no respecter of persons," Eccles said, anyone can stay at the facility, regardless of their ability to pay.
"Fighting cancer is hard enough," she said, adding that the 41-suite facility encourages communal living, with gathering spaces that foster camaraderie and encouragement, thus promoting hope and healing.
"We wanted a place that was not only inviting and comfortable — a home away from home — but a place that was uplifting, calming and energizing, bringing hope to others when they need it most," Eccles said.
The 63,000-square-foot facility is the largest of its kind west of the Mississippi River. It offers four large kitchens, a large dining area to accommodate 80 people at a time, a living area, comprehensive resource library, a secluded reflection room, and other spaces akin to a private home.
Patients and their caregivers staying at the Hope Lodge in Salt Lake City will be responsible for their own meals, laundry and cleanliness.
The facility doesn't provide any medical care, but it will offer transportation to and from appointments and other necessary trips, such as to the grocery store, as well as access to the American Cancer Society offices on the lower floor and the various programs and services it provides.
While whisperings of the local facility began in 2007, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made it a reality in 2011 with the donation of a 2.2-acre plot of land — a corner lot were a vacant chapel stood unused for nearly a decade.
Gérald Caussé, first counselor in the LDS Church's Presiding Bishopric, called it a "modest contribution," but Eccles said a donation of that size was what they needed to get things going.
The George S. and Delores Doré Eccles Foundation pitched in another large sum, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert budgeted $2 million in state funds toward the project.
Hundreds of others generously followed, and ultimately the campaign netted more than $20 million from more than 400 individuals and foundations — more donors than any other Hope Lodge in the United States.
"There are so many things we do in life out of obligation, others we do because they inspire us and give us joy," Caussé said Thursday, adding that the newest Hope Lodge "is a monument to the idea that people of good faith and caring hearts can work together to create something of worth, something that will bless the lives of others."
Crissy Knibbe, a breast cancer survivor and real estate agent in Vernal, said she would have benefited from the Hope Lodge had it been available years ago when she was fighting her battle with cancer.
"Cancer is expensive," she said.
When Knibbe was diagnosed in 2007, she was a single parent and uninsured. She quickly racked up more than $70,000 in medical debt in just the first year of appointments. She lost one car and nearly lost her home to foreclosure.
Knibbe recalls canceling at least one appointment because "it was too expensive to drive the three hours from Vernal and then pay for a two-night stay in order to get the help I needed."
The average Hope Lodge stay for patients is 21 days, and the 31 Hope Lodges in existence last year provided 276,000 nights of refuge at a cost savings of $36 million to patients and their families. Utah's Hope Lodge aims to serve 800 patients, who travel from rural areas within the state as well as neighboring states, each year.
Knibbe said not having to worry about paying for a place to stay would have been invaluable to her recovery.
"There's a lot of other things to worry about than the financial burden of cancer, and that is to get better," she said.
And as American Cancer Society CEO Gary Reedy said, history has shown that patients who stay at the Hope Lodge in other states have a greater adherence to treatment regimen, less financial stress and a better quality of life during their bout cancer.
"It really makes a difference," he said.
Workers with R&O Construction said knowing the project was funded by donations made them more careful about how it was built, as well as more excited to meet deadlines and finish the job.
No detail was overlooked, said project manager Bryce Jensen.
Spencer Eccles, chairman of his family's foundation, said the results are "dynamite. The best is yet to come."
"Many who enter these doors will find the comfort and rest they so desperately need and hope for," Caussé said. "They will find healing for their hearts and hope for their souls, and they will lift up their voices, giving thanks to the many, many people, friends who they didn't know before, who have laid the foundation for a place such as this to become a reality.
"It is our great obligation, privilege and opportunity to commit ourselves to this concept that if one suffers, we all suffer, and if one mourns, we all mourn," he said. "If one reaches out for comfort, we comfort them."
For more information or to donate, visit www.hopelodgeutah.org.