Massachusetts is a hub of health care. People from across the country travel to the commonwealth for treatment, whether it be for specialty doctors or for procedures that have become restricted in other states. But for some, the cost of staying in the area while receiving care is too expensive and the logistics of staying in a hotel while recovering too difficult.
That was the case for Cal Fabel, who travels from Richmond, Virginia, to Boston to receive gender-affirming care. He applied to a local program called Hospitality Homes, which connects visitors with free housing provided by volunteer hosts.
Debba Andree, a local retiree with a spare room, joined as a volunteer host in January. She was a bit apprehensive at first about having strangers come stay in her home, but said the program has been rewarding.
"To say it's been 100% positive is an understatement," said Andree. About eight patients have stayed at her home since she started hosting. Fabel has stayed with Andree twice.
Fabel said when he first arrived at her door, all he was expecting was a place to stay. He was surprised when Andree invited him to join her family for dinner.
"I spent another three hours staying up just talking to them because Debba and her family are absolutely wonderful," said Fabel.
For Andree, welcoming Fabel was natural.
"All that Hospitality Homes wants is for you to offer a bed and a bathroom," said Andree. "But they're in your home and what can I say, my parents are southern and so of course you invite people to join."
Hospitality Homes Executive Director Deborah Pepper said a welcoming environment is key to patients and their loved ones.
"We do know that it matters to families that are seeking care to feel warm and welcomed and be in a home," said Pepper. "You get better faster when your loved ones are with you and you're also in a place that you feel comfortable."
Pepper said hospital social workers sometimes refer patients and their families to Hospitality Homes. About 60% of those served by the organization are pediatric patients, and the other 40% represent patients seeking a variety of care in Massachusetts.
Hospitality Homes, which has been in operation for 40 years, offers hosted housing as well as some empty apartments where patients and their families can have more privacy. Pepper said the program matches hosts and guests based on personality and needs, like proximity to a hospital and the range of time necessary for stay. Andree said the care in matching hosts and guests puts her at ease when welcoming people in.
"I don't know if there's magic at Hospitality Homes about how they pair you up, but it works and it has made me incredibly comfortable," she said.
Both hosts and guests undergo background checks, and if a guest feels unsafe, they are quickly moved, said Pepper.
Pepper also noted that there are a range of hosts who work with Hospitality Homes. While Andree is among hosts who are retired with grown children, there are also young families who open their homes.
Fabel has stayed with multiple hosts, including Andree. He said staying in a hotel when recovering from medical procedures is often impersonal, but Hospitality Homes provides a sense of comfort and support.
"When it comes to recovering from a really intense medical procedure, oftentimes people feel like a burden because they're not as functional as they used to be, and they would love to just get back to that level of independence," said Fabel. "But when you stay with a host who's incredibly kind and compassionate, it's all right to ask for help."
This segment aired on October 24, 2023.