ROCHESTER — A diagnosis of cancer can be a devastating blow, not only to a patient’s physical well-being, but to his or her financial health as well.
But expensive treatments aren’t the only unexpected costs cancer patients have to shoulder. If they live any distance from the hospital treating them, they also have to shell out money for transportation costs, meals and a place to stay while they’re undergoing outpatient treatment.
Since January, Catholic Family Center’s Credit Education Bureau has been working with Rochester’s B. Thomas Golisano Hope Lodge Hospitality House to try to ease these patients’ financial burdens. Hope Lodge is run by the American Cancer Society, which maintains 31 lodges throughout the country. Cancer patients and their caregivers are able to stay at these lodges for free and benefit from a supportive environment where it’s "safe" to talk about cancer, said Lorraine Clements, director of Rochester’s Hope Lodge, which is located on the South Goodman Street campus of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. Trauma and organ-transplant patients and their caregivers also are able to stay at Rochester’s Hope Lodge for a nominal fee, she added.
For the past few months, Chad Rieflin, director of the Credit Education Bureau, has been visiting Hope Lodge periodically to provide workshops for its guests and survey them about their financial issues. The mission of the Credit Education Bureau, which Catholic Family Center acquired two years ago, is to empower individuals to become successful and independent money managers and build better financial futures.
The Credit Education Bureau’s partnership with Hope Lodge was born last November, when the lodge received a grant from JP Morgan Chase to start a program to help guests and their caregivers learn to relieve their financial stress, Clements said. This grant was especially welcome because Clements had heard many horror stories about guests who encountered debt and loss of employment when their treatments required them to stay out of town for days or weeks at a time. One guest even had to go back home early because she learned her utilities had been shut off while she was away, Clements said.
"If you have to stay in a hotel every day and buy meals for any length of time, it’s going to eat away at your bank account," she said.
Clements said she estimates the Rochester Hope Lodge has saved its guests more than $2 million just in the two years its been open at the South Goodman Street location. The lodge also provides some food for its guests, and long-term guests are able to purchase food and keep it in designated cupboards and refrigerators in the lodge’s kitchen so they can provide their own meals. The lodge occasionally provides guests with cab fares and gas cards, but staff members cannot give money to guests, so all she could do was listen and be supportive when guests shared their struggles with her.
After the lodge received the grant from JP Morgan Chase in November, Clements began working with Rieflin and the Credit Education Bureau to develop a program that would help guests learn how to solve, or at least lessen, their financial difficulties. One of Rieflin’s first steps was to survey the lodge’s guests and determine what specific issues and problems they were facing.
"It’s a specific group dealing with very specific financial issues," he explained. "There have been quite a few doozies coming their way. The two biggest issues that folks are tending to have issues with are number one, making their insurance claims and just figuring out how to organize this flood of bills that’s coming their way, and second, meeting their travel expenses."
Guests also have expressed concern about managing the added costs of their medical care, keeping up with health-insurance premiums, paying for medications, and keeping up with rent or mortgage payments, added Rieflin, who plans to offer several workshops about these topics for the lodge’s guests. During these workshops he’ll share tips they can use to help them stay organized and keep up with their bills. One such tip, he said, is to keep explanations of services in the same places as the corresponding bills and receipts for those services, rather than grouping bills in one place, receipts in another and explanations in yet another place.
"That way if you have an issue with something related to that particular service, you’ll have all the information you need right there," he said.
Rieflin also encourages guests to keep track of how much they spend on each aspect of a treatment-related trip so they’ll eventually be able to make a budget for future trips. Rieflin also provides one-on-one counseling with interested Hope Lodge guests, and is working on putting together a packet of related resources.
"I think people appreciate the fact that we’re trying to help them as much as we can," Clements said.