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Who’s Kevin? Buffalo’s First Hospital Hospitality House Turns 45

It has been a busy year for the Kevin Guest House (KGH), a hospital hospitality house located on Ellicott Street near the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus (BNMC). Recently the site of the Junior League of Buffalo’s Decorators’ Show House, KGH launched its “Who’s Kevin?” campaign this summer to promote the growing organization, which celebrated its 45th anniversary in July. Ongoing fundraising efforts include the $700,000 needed to open a new guest facility on its campus in early 2018.

The Garvey Family and the First Hospital Hospitality House in America

Today, over 600 hospitality houses across the country serve patients and their families while traveling for medical treatment. They form a network with annual conventions for sharing best practices and new trends. The Kevin Guest House in Buffalo was the nation’s first healthcare hospitality house, starting this innovative and compassionate model in 1972, when Cyril and Sharon Garvey opened the doors of 782 Ellicott Street to families seeking medical care at Roswell Park Memorial Institute and Buffalo General Hospital.

Between 1970 and 1972, the Garveys traveled from Sharon, Pennsylvania, to Buffalo for their son, Kevin, to receive treatment for leukemia at Roswell Park. In a series of extended stays in Buffalo, the Garveys observed the hardships that other families faced while seeking medical attention; one of the most compelling experiences was seeing families sleep in cars when they could not afford hotel rooms. In response, the Garveys initiated the Kevin Guest House to help alleviate one aspect of the overwhelming logistical and emotional undertaking of traveling for medical needs. Following KGH’s lead, the first Ronald McDonald House opened in 1974 in Philadelphia and others followed thereafter.

Kevin, the seventh of eight Garvey children, was born in 1958 and succumbed to his illness in 1972, nine days after his parents closed on the property at 782 Ellicott Street. His life is still an inspiration at KGH; the mission to provide a welcoming home for patients and families seeking treatment at local medical facilities offers a counterbalance to the institutional experience of hospitals. As the organization faces an ever-present demand, it is expanding its facilities to accommodate larger families, provide handicapped accessibility, private bathrooms, and reaffirm its goal to keep welcoming guests for at least another 45 years.

The KGH Campus & Growth

The KGH campus includes four late-nineteenth century buildings standing amidst the rapidly growing BNMC. The original KGH at 782 has ten guest rooms with shared bathrooms, and small rooms on the third floor of the house, rotating volunteers and the resident manager. KGH strives to keep a stocked pantry for guests and encourages common use of the kitchen and public spaces, such as the dining and living rooms. Through a dinner program, outside volunteers cook for and eat with guests, serving a home cooked meal and lending an open ear. The Healing Garden behind 782 Elliott Street provides a peaceful green space within a dense urban area. A new fundraising initiative, in which benefactors buy pavers for the pathway, will help fund future maintenance and growth.

Two adjacent buildings, the residence at 788 Ellicott Street and the carriage house at 788 ½ Ellicott Street, provide recovery apartments for guests after bone marrow transplants. Recovering patients often have daily checkups for weeks or months following the procedure. These buildings are the next focus for KGH remodeling efforts.

The newest addition to the campus, the Russell J. Salvatore Hospitality House at 766 Ellicott Street, is scheduled to open in early 2018 and addresses some of KGH’s anticipated needs as Children’s Hospital moves into the area. When the new hospital location opens, KGH expects to serve more families with children. The Salvatore House offers families three suites with private bathrooms and a play area for children. The third floor consists of two apartments for transplant recipients; each apartment has two bedrooms since recovering patients need to live with a caregiver. Additionally, a new elevator tower makes this the first ADA accessible facility on the campus, broadening the organization’s reach.

While renovating historic homes into a hospitality house, KGH staff face the challenge of retaining a home-like feel while adhering to codes and the particular needs of patients, whose immune systems are weakened by illness and treatment. Nonetheless, the sincere welcome of staff, the encouragement to socialize with other guests, and the warm atmosphere—including beautiful iron and woodwork—foster the comfort and compassion KGH strives to create.

Operations

When it has openings, KGH does not turn anyone away, regardless of their financial situation. While KGH asks guests to donate $25 per person per night or $50 per night for a recovery apartment, the average payment is $11. Instead, operations rely upon grants, donations, and volunteers. For instance, in 2013, a $35,000 an Ingram Micro grant allowed KGH to remodel bathrooms, and volunteers consistently undertake cleaning, gardening and painting duties. Russell Salvatore’s recent $500,000 gift funded extensive work at 766 Ellicott Street in the past year.

Wendel Companies has provided planning, architectural design and engineering services over the past 10 years as KGH considered several renovation and expansion options. According to former KGH board member Kirk Burzynski, “The KGH is an underappreciated jewel in Western New York and because it serves out of town guests, it doesn’t get as much support and recognition as it deserves. At Wendel, we’re always looking to get involved in projects that make WNY a better, stronger community. The Kevin Guest House is a wonderful compliment to the expanding BNMC and provides a much-needed service to folks that are truly in need.”

As it begins its 46th year in service, the Kevin Guest House is eager to keep building momentum. For more information about KGH, personal testimonies to its impact, volunteer opportunities, and other ways you can contribute to its mission, see kevinguesthouse.com.

Written by Caitlin B. Moriarty

Caitlin B. Moriarty

Caitlin is an architectural and cultural historian, and she works for a local historic preservation consulting firm. She moved to Buffalo in 2011 to pursue dissertation research about post-World War II neighborhood identity on the West Side. She is interested in contextualizing change over time in the built environment to learn how people and communities use places to create identities and meaning. Caitlin lives in North Buffalo with her husband and two sons.

View All Articles by Caitlin B. Moriarty
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