A spacious room, comfortable bed, free WIFI and other amenities can make a few days away from home bearable for any traveler.
But for many MD Anderson patients on cancer journeys far from friends and supportive families, the Jesse H. Jones Rotary House International offers more than convenience and a restful place to sleepfor a night or extended stay.
For the past two decades, it’s been a respite that keeps patients connected to their MD Anderson team. It also provides a welcome disconnect from their cancer experience.
The fitness center, indoor swimming pool, daily recreational activities and free shopping shuttles deliver diversions, but the large, wheelchair-accessible guest rooms, an onsite lab for blood draws, quiet rooms for support groups, a dedicated multicultural staff and covered skybridges to MD Anderson clinics serve the special needs of guests.
General Manager Kyle Ariza says her staff understands that, unlike most hotel patrons, their guests aren’t traveling for business or pleasure.“Anything we can do to ease our guests’ stay is what we aim to do,” says Ariza, who left nursing school to pursue a career in hospitality 25 years ago. “There are so many unknowns in cancer, and we don’t want them to worry about any aspect of their stay here. That’s one burden we can take off their shoulders.”
Like so many MD Anderson programs and facilities, the Jesse H. Jones Rotary House International was conceived of need, funded by philanthropy and named for one of Houston’s great benefactors.
After the popular Mayfair Hotel, located at Holcombe and Braeswood boulevards, was imploded in 1991, the Rotary Club of Houston helped raise $17 million to build a new patient and family hotel in its place. With gifts from people, foundations and other sources, Rotary House opened two years later. It stood 11 floors with 198 guest rooms.
“If we can’t accommodate everyone who calls for a room, we do our best to help place patients in a nearby hotel that can accommodate their needs.”
In the late 1990s, as the demand for MD Anderson care grew — particularly among patients from outside Houston — Rotary House expanded as well. In 2001, a new wing with 124 rooms — including a floor of executive suites — and a 10-story parking garage opened.
Today, the hotel’s 322 rooms have an average occupancy of more than 85% on Sundays through Thursdays, Ariza says. The hotel is owned by MD Anderson and operated by the Marriott International, a model unlike any other facility in the United States that provides lodging exclusively for patients.
The Rotary House’s 160-member staff includes housekeepers, bellhops, servers, front-desk attendants and patient-guest relations representatives. Ariza says that, unlike other hotels, employee turnover
is low because of the strong commitment to accommodating guests’ unique needs.
Many have worked at Rotary House for a decade or more, including Lisa Apodaca, who has staffed the front desk for 12 years.
“It’s the small things that you can do for a guest that can make the most impact,” she says. “Every day you have the chance to go the extra mile for someone. They become our family, just like we become theirs.”
Among the services available to Rotary House guests:
- Business Center with Internet access
- Landscaped park area and outdoor seating
- Guest laundry and same-day dry cleaning
- Courtesy shuttle for shopping, attractions within 2-mile radius
- Full service restaurant and in-room dining service
- Concierge service
- Learning Center
- Check-On program for guests traveling unaccompanied
- Support groups
- On-site lab for blood draws
- Guest activities such as musical performances, games, massages and skin-care demonstrations
- Liaisons to clinic services
- New patient orientation