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Rochester sets stage for medical visitor housing

Rochester officials on Monday approved a measure that makes room for extended-stay housing for area hospital patients and their families to address a growing need as Mayo Clinic prepares for a growth spurt.

The City Council action came after legislators this year tweaked the state lodging statute to distinguish the fully furnished units, including apartments and single-family homes, which house patients and their families for mostly long-term stays.

In the works for more than a year, the city provision creates zoning and licensing standards for medical-stay dwelling units. It provides guidance for developers ahead of an expected uptick in demand for the specialized housing, driven by a massive Mayo Clinic build-out known as the Destination Medical Center.

“We know that Rochester is going to see growth in cancer and transplant visitors. We know they have unique lodging needs,” state Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said at the Monday meeting. “As part of our Destination Medical Center, this will be essential that families and visitors be able to find these very unique types of long-term … home-like settings.”

The units typically are typically outfitted with wireless Internet, all utilities, central air, free parking and free laundry, and they’re in safe and accessible neighborhoods. Under the new rules, they must fall within 10 miles of a hospital or other care facility and must clear an Olmsted County Public Health inspection.

According to some estimates, Rochester already welcomes 770,000 Mayo Clinic patients each year, plus more at other hospitals. Factoring in their families, the number of medical visitors to the city swells to 1.85 million – a figure that’ll likely jump in coming years as the Destination Medical Center takes shape.

A bulk of the Mayo Clinic’s existing patients receive cancer or transplant treatment, the kind of long-term care that pushes them into extended-stay housing nearby. The Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau, focused heavily on the city’s medical visitors, pushed for the zoning adjustment.

“It just makes so much sense that we do this,” Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede said at the meeting. “This is a big deal and I am so happy that this is happening.”

Units generally range from $55 per night for double-occupancy units, to about $80 per night for larger spaces. For most transplant patients, insurance covers the cost.

City and state measures ensure that extended-stay lodging for patients is held to a higher standard than typical rentals or hotels – a safeguard against low-quality accommodations that also adds value for communities, said Jodie Hook, president of Rochester patient housing provider Serenity House Network.

“We believe the properties licensed via the [provision] will improve neighborhoods, increase property value and help provide a comprehensive set of lodging options for Mayo Clinic patients and their families, and their diverse needs,” she said at Monday’s meeting.

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