Groundbreaking major step toward supportive environment for cancer patientsPublished on Monday, October 2, 2017NOTE: This article originally appeared in the October 2017 issue of CONSULT, UMMC's monthly electronic newsletter. To have CONSULT, and more stories like this, delivered directly to your inbox, click here to subscribe.The groundbreaking for the Gertrude C. Ford Hope Lodge was a milestone that University of Mississippi Medical Center cancer caregivers are glad to see.The shovels make it official: The first throw of dirt is taken by, from left, Sheila Grogan of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Mississippi; Kirk Sims of Yates Construction; Dr. Ralph Vance, professor emeritus; Jerry Host, president and CEO of the Trustmark Corporation; Mike Neal, ACS executive vice president; John Lewis, Gertrude C. Ford Foundation director; Claude Harbarger, St. Dominic Health Services president; Dr. John Ruckdeschel, UMMC Cancer Institute director; and Whit Hughes of the Baptist Health Services Foundation.With more than half the patients treated annually at the UMMC Cancer Institute driving 50 or more miles for treatment, the facility that provides free overnight lodging will help alleviate a growing need.The Ford Hope Lodge will join 32 existing American Cancer Society Hope Lodges across the nation and is one of seven in the planning or construction stages.Ruckdeschel“Hope Lodge offers a supportive environment where cancer patients and their family members can meet others facing this disease and it helps negate some of the expenses of cancer,” said Dr. John Ruckdeschel, UMMC Cancer Institute director.At the Sept. 19 groundbreaking he and his wife, Angie, made a $10,000 donation to help complete a guest room.AndersonDonald Anderson of Sumrall calls having a place to stay a big support in his cancer battle. Anderson currently is staying at Hope House of Hospitality, a charitable facility in Jackson, during his treatment at the UMMC Cancer Institute.“It’s helped us financially and health-wise, too,” he said. “It takes a load off of us health-wise.”At 80, the trip to and from UMMC can be exhausting, he said.“That’s a lot of wear and tear.”Jackson’s Hope Lodge, named in honor of philanthropist Gertrude C. Ford, whose foundation boosted the ACS fundraising with a $3 million gift in 2014, will provide private rooms for 32 patients and caregivers, two communal kitchens, dining areas and community spaces, a laundry, and more. The lodge also will offer transportation to the Jackson-area cancer treatment centers.It’s named “Hope Lodge” for a reason, said John Lewis, a Gertrude C. Ford Foundation board member.“This is a waypoint in a patient’s journey where they come to rest, where they come for help,” Lewis said. “That’s why it’s called ‘Hope Lodge.’”To Dr. Srinivasan Vijayakumar, director of the UMMC Department of Radiation Oncology, the lodge spells “convenience, comfort and compliance.”Dr. Srinivasan Vijayakumar, left, director of the UMMC Cancer Institute's Department of Radiation Oncology, enjoys the day's festivities with Dr. Ralph Vance.“Those three Cs will go to getting rid of the ‘Big C” – cancer,” he said.Patients receiving radiation therapy often must have treatment five days a week for several weeks. Lodging helps them complete treatment without delay or breaks, Vijayakumar said.Kathleen Bass, a social worker in the UMMC outpatient clinic, said the ACS currently helps house patients in area motels when other accommodations are not available. Hope Lodge will help fulfill a need for camaraderie and meeting and talking to others on their journey.“I’ve seen it change patients,” Bass said.Many patients, like Anderson, currently stay at Hope House of Hospitality, a nonprofit home with a similar concept: Provide overnight lodging for cancer patients in need. Bass said the need for such space is large enough to support both and admission criteria for each differs slightly.The ACS, short only $600,000 of the $10.9 million needed for the Ford Hope Lodge, officially broke ground for the building on property adjacent to and donated by UMMC.Dr. Ralph Vance, a hematologist/oncologist who retired from the UMMC Cancer Institute in 2011, said the groundbreaking is more than he envisioned when he began working to get a Hope Lodge in 2004.“It had become apparent to me that Mississippi and Arkansas were the only states in the mid-South that did not have a Hope Lodge built or plans to be built,” said Vance, a former ACS national president.U.S. Rep. Greg Harper, center, chats with Hope Lodge supporters before the groundbreaking.The official ACS campaign began in 2011, backed by years of planning, said Robert Morris, ACS vice president for community development. The campaign brought together multiple entities, including the metro area hospitals that treat cancer, the BlueCross BlueShield of Mississippi Foundation, Trustmark and others.The ACS estimates about 1,500 people travel 40 or more miles for cancer treatment in Mississippi. Mike Neal, ACS executive vice president, said Hope Lodge is a necessity for patients who can’t get cancer care closer to their homes. He said some get no care at all.“They can’t get care because they can’t afford the expenses of that out-of-town stay,” Neal said.An artist's rendering indicates the Gertrude C. Ford Hope Lodge's street view.Once completed, the lodge is expected to provide 12,000 nights of free lodging, saving cancer patients $1.5 million in lodging expenses annually. Since the ACS also provides transportation to and from treatment, patients will save an estimated $50,000 annually on those costs.To find out more about the Ford Hope Lodge, visit https://www.cancer.org/content/cancer/en/treatment/support-programs-and-services/patient-lodging/hope-lodge/jackson/about-our-facility.html.