Shining a light on medical travel

Categories: Open Homes

It was a stormy night on Martha’s Vineyard when Rali Penchev’s water broke. At seven months into her pregnancy, it was also seven weeks earlier than she’d anticipated going into labor. The hospital where she’d planned to deliver — on the island, where she lived with her husband, George — wasn’t equipped to handle premature births, so she was taken to the mainland via ferry and ambulance.

The couple’s daughter, Zara, was born ten days later at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Rali was discharged a few days after that, but the baby needed to stay in the hospital’s NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). With their home on the Vineyard nearly 100 miles away, the Penchevs didn’t know what to do.  

“We were worried,” Rali told the Martha’s Vineyard Times. “Technically, we could have come back to the Island, and just visited Zara once a week. But we couldn’t do that. It’s your baby. You have to see her every day.”

Enter Hospitality Homes, a Boston-based organization that matches families and caregivers of medical patients with temporary housing. The Penchevs reached out, and — thanks to a recent partnership with Airbnb — the organization booked them in a nearby home while their daughter remained in the hospital.

Welcoming Patients and Families

In September 2018, Airbnb expanded our Open Homes platform to include medical stays, and we hope the Penchevs’ story gives some context to this new cause, which addresses a broad spectrum of needs. Whether traveling for unexpected surgery or a consultation with an out-of-state specialist, the associated cost of lodging often prevents people from accessing critical treatment. There are many great organizations working to fix that, and — in addition to Hospitality Homes — we’ve partnered with the Fisher House Foundation (which serves military and veteran families) and Make-A-Wish to connect medical patients and families to Airbnb’s community of generous hosts.

These partners have shown us that there are many impactful ways to support medical patients and their families throughout their journey with illness. Airbnb’s partnership with Make-A-Wish dates back to 2015, when we began gifting accommodations to families taking respite vacations during and after intensive treatment.

“We learned quickly through Make-A-Wish that the power of respite travel is twofold. One, it gave patients something to look forward to, creating a sense of hope and endurance to get healthy enough to take the trip. And perhaps more importantly, we learned the impact of these trips on family dynamics. Families were creating new, positive memories and reconnecting in a way that was difficult within their everyday routines. Partners like Make-A-Wish have really helped shape how we think about medical housing on Open Homes.”

 — Laura Ellis, Airbnb Social Impact Manager

In short, our relationship with Make-A-Wish was an early indicator that medical stays go beyond the needs of patients in the midst of treatment. To date, the Airbnb community has helped welcome over 1,000 wish families across the globe — offering them a warm place to call home while they decompress and reconnect together.

We have all been affected by someone with a critical illness, and this is a simple way to give back — with no expertise needed. Every day within the Airbnb community, people are making a big difference, one family at a time. We invite you to join the community of hosts pledging their support by signing up for Open Homes.

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