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University Hospital opens hotel for patients, their families

SALT LAKE CITY — Rachel Lukasik was burned so badly in a central Montana plane crash that her local hospital couldn't treat her.

And given the choice of four of the closest trauma centers, the 11-year-old was flown to University Hospital where doctors have saved her feet and grafted skin to her legs to help her recover.

"I don't even remember being burned," she said. "It didn't feel like that was me getting burned. It's all kind of a blur."

An attentive nurse was able to bring Rachel's spirits up, which has made a difference in her recovery. But she misses her family, her friends at school and her dogs at home.

"We're not big city people," said Rachel's dad, Rod Lukasik, who has been by her side since the Sept. 2 accident in Cascade County. He went home for four days, to bury his mother, who was killed in the same plane crash, after she pushed Rachel from a back seat of the small Cessna 177 just before the plane burst into flames.

Rod Lukasik, chief building engineer with his hometown's school district, said he quickly used up sick leave benefits, and medical bills have surpassed $1 million. But he's grateful his daughter is doing well and that he's had a "nice place to live."

"I'm grateful they let me stay in the room with my daughter the whole time," he said. The duo was released from full-time hospital care a couple weeks ago and has been staying at the newly opened Patient and Family Hotel operated by University Health Care at 2080 W. North Temple.

"I'm thankful we have this place," Rachel said. "In some ways, it is better than our own house."

The former Baymont Inn & Suites has been remodeled to include 44 rooms, 27 with kitchenettes and all with couch sleepers and other amenities.

Donors have made various packaged foods available to tenants and patients and their families pay tax-free reduced rates up to $47 per night, depending on their length of stay.

Some insurances, including Medicaid, can also be billed for the stay.

The facility operates a shuttle service to and from the hospital and gives patients — who are sometimes receiving care for up to three months — a "home away from home," said Dr. Sean Mulvihill, chairman of the U.'s department of surgery and a cancer specialist at Huntsman Cancer Institute.

He said about 30 percent of their patients come from more than 100 miles of the hospital or from out of state. The U.'s trauma, intensive care, cancer and rehab centers are some of the only ones available within the Intermountain West region, Mulvihill said.

"Having a warm and welcoming place … to call their home away from home," he said, is an important aspect of proper treatment for patients.

"A lot of patients sit in a hotel room by themselves in between appointments," said Adrienne Wilson, lodging manager at University of Utah Hospitals and Clinics. "Here, they know everyone is going through the same thing."

The hotel, which boasts a living room-like lobby, accepts patients receiving care for a variety of reasons, including awaiting organ transplants, participating in rehabilitation, or going through cancer treatment via university facilities, among other things.

Dan Watson, 60, is receiving care for larynx cancer and had medical supplies strewn across his room at the patient hotel on Wednesday. In writing, because he couldn't speak, he said the facility is a "good place."

He said it was conveniently located and comfortable, meeting his needs while in recovery.

The facility, on lease to the university, has potential to expand and could open up to 90 rooms if the need arises.

Wilson said the building is already half-full, and a previously opened 16-unit facility that is located closer to the hospital is always at capacity. That apartment building, she said, doesn't have an elevator and needs more ground-floor space for patients who are unable to climb stairs because of their health.

"Our hearts are bigger than our ability at times," she said. "It's serviceable but warm and comfortable. It's not too fancy so people don't feel comfortable, but it is really the best use of space."


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