Hospitals provide camping space for outpatients
Jim Weaver has had two major surgeries in the past decade: one to remove cancerous tumors from his bladder and another to clear a blocked artery.
Weaver, 70, knew that after he emerged from surgery, he’d want privacy. But because he and his wife drove more than 150 miles from Bend, Oregon, to Oregon Health & Science University Hospital in Portland, immediately returning home was not an option. So he brought his camper trailer and parked in one of the hospital's 17 RV sites.
“Leaving that hospital with the bandage, the scar, and the rest of it, there’s no way I wanted to be in a hotel,” he said. “Being able to go down and stay in the trailer there, it was so huge.”
In Montana, patients have been parking their campers at Bozeman Health Deaconess Regional Medical Center for years. It started informally, when tourists got hurt while adventuring or sick while passing through the mountain city of 56,000 people. This spring, Bozeman Health created a short-term RV parking program at the hospital, which so far has largely been used by Montana patients traveling for care they couldn’t receive closer to home.
Bozeman Health worked for years to turn itself into a medical hub in southwestern Montana, expanding into specialty services such as intensive care for infants and cancer treatment. Simultaneously, hotel prices in the destination town, one of the gateways to Yellowstone National Park, have skyrocketed, and competition to find a place to stay in peak tourist season is high.
“There are towns in Montana that just don’t have hospitals,” Kallie Kujawa, the chief operating officer at Bozeman Health said. “We had a couple who came who could not find anywhere to stay in town. This was the only place they could find to stay. And that was critical for them.”
The average stay for a patient in the RV spaces is about seven days, and the limit is 30 days at a time. If a patient depends on the hospital for a recurring treatment like kidney dialysis, they’ll stay every few months. Recently, spots were occupied by transplant patients and a family with a baby in the intensive care unit, Dodson said.
The spots help patients keep close to their medical providers and avoid paying for hotels. If patients don’t have access to an RV or would rather stay in a hotel, Dodson’s team refers them to the on-site lodging that OHSU runs in partnership with the local chapter of Ronald McDonald House Charities or a nearby hotel that gives patients a discounted rate.
In addition to improving patient comfort, Dodson said, the RV spaces set the hospital up to provide better care. People who previously would have driven through the night to get to Portland for a morning surgery can now arrive the night before, he said. “They can get a good night’s sleep, they’d be ready for a surgery, and they’re there on time.”
Accommodations hospitals offer RV travelers vary widely and many aren’t part of an official policy. Among those that do offer overnight RV spaces, not all offer designated spaces or utility hookups like OHSU Hospital.
KFF Health News Montana correspondent Katheryn Houghton and Colorado correspondent Rae Ellen Bichell contributed to this report.
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