WINCHESTER — About a month ago, Beryl Gwan got a phone call that her sister Lydia was involved in a serious car accident in Maryland. Lydia was a passenger in a car that flipped six times.

Gwan, 33, rushed from her Baltimore, Md., home to be with her sister, who was taken to Winchester Medical Center. She was joined by her parents, who reside in North Carolina, her 13-year-old daughter and her sister from Texas.

“She was hurt bad,” Gwan said. “She broke her leg and had to have seven surgeries.”

Lydia, from Westminster, Md., was in the hospital for three weeks as doctors tried to repair her damaged leg. A rod was put in but had to be removed because of an infection.

Gwan and her family stayed in the Hurst Hospitality House on the WMC campus. They were only a few minutes walk from Lydia as she went through every up and down in the hospital.

This year, the Hurst Hospitality House is celebrating 10 years of offering families a place to stay while their loved ones are in the hospital. The home — with six bedrooms, laundry facilities, a kitchen, and dining and common areas — is available for those who live more than 40 miles away from the hospital. Guests stay at no charge.

“Everybody here is so wonderful,” Gwan said of the staff. “I’ve enjoyed having the support and having a place to stay.”

She said if she and her family had to stay in a hotel while her sister was in the hospital, it would have likely cost at least $2,000. It was also invaluable to her that she was able to use the kitchen to cook her own food. Lydia wasn’t a fan of the hospital food.

“We cooked [at the hospitality house] and brought food to her,” Gwan said.

Gwan was packing her bags to go home on Aug. 2 as her sister was being discharged from the hospital. She will move to a facility that is closer to home where she can start rehabilitation.

“This has been an incredible service and indispensable for us,” Gwan said of the house. “I don’t think we would have been able to be here this long if we had to pay for a hotel. It helped my sister having us around ... Having a place to sleep changes everything.”

A home away from home

The Hurst Hospitality House was opened in 2007 by the Winchester Medical Center Auxiliary to accommodate out-of-town visitors who have a loved one staying at the hospital and also physician-referred outpatients of Winchester Medical Center.

The house provides a place to stay for an average of 600 individuals each year. Since it opened in 2007, the home has seen 5,732 visitors come through its doors. Guests have arrived from 48 states — no one yet from Nebraska or South Dakota — and several countries including Australia, Canada, Mexico, Hong Kong and the island of St. Croix. A majority of the guests are family members of critical care patients.

On average, they stay one to three nights at the house. Guests who stay there have to be referred by the hospital or a case worker.

The non-medical facility has a living room and a sun room, both decorated with comfortable couches and armchairs that give families a place to gather for conversation.

The bedrooms are decorated with uplifting colors of pale yellow, sky blue and peach, whether it is on the walls or the bedspreads and throw pillows. Each bedroom is complete with a phone, television and a small welcome basket with toiletry items.

The house has a handicap room and a family suite that each have their own bathroom. Those who stay in one of the other four rooms share the one full and one half bath in the house.

As a nod to the home’s history, an original door knocker, an American flag with 48 stars and a three-generation cactus are on display. These once belonged to former owners Samuel and June Hurst.

In a small office area, guests have access to a computer, printer and a library with books on various medical conditions. A kitchen with a convection oven, microwave, dishwasher, full-size stainless steel refrigerator and plenty of counter space gives guests a place to make a home-cooked meal that they can enjoy in the adjoining dining room. Grab-and-go options, including soups and other canned items, are also available in the pantry.

A set of washers and dryers upstairs and a set downstairs make sure anyone making a temporary home of the Hurst House has clean sheets and clothes during their stay.

Also, according to Cookie Oates, chairwoman of the Hurst Hospitality House, the structure is the only house in the United States that has an electric elevator.

The house is a safe place for guests as it remains locked at all hours. Guests are not given a key, but a volunteer is on hand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to provide entry.

“We have 22 volunteers, and every one is so sweet, so kind and so caring,” Oates said. “This is a house of love.”

Volunteers put in an average of 2,133 hours each year. They do more than make sure the home stays clean and the sheets are changed. Sometimes they provide a listening ear.

“When guests lose a loved one, we’re the first ones they see,” Oates said. “Sometimes they’re crying and we console them.”

She remembered a former guest who lost a family member while staying at the house. One of the volunteers made her a cup of tea and sat with her as she shared stories about her loved one.

History of the Hurst House

Samuel and June Hurst built the Hurst House in 1928 on five acres of land that are now part of Winchester Medical Center. The newlywed couple named their home “Rainbowridge” after a double rainbow that appeared while they stood on the hill of their new land.

The couple operated a flower shop from the home. When the apple blossoms didn’t cooperate in the annual Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival, the Apple Blossom queen and her court would sometimes have photos taken in front of the cherry and dogwood trees on the Hursts’ property.

The couple had two daughters, Elizabeth, who lives in Maryland, and Nancy, who died in 1968. A dresser in room five of today’s Hurst House displays a growth chart from 1936 for each daughter on the inside of each of its two doors.

Samuel Hurst died in 1977. In 1986, Winchester Medical Center purchased the home’s five acres to provide an entrance for its new facility.

June Hurst was allowed to continue living at the home for a year as she waited for Shenandoah Valley Westminster-Canterbury to open for occupants in 1987. June died in 1991.

Over the years, the Hurst House was used for administrative purposes until the Winchester Medical Center Auxiliary made it a goal to make the house a temporary home for the hospital’s visitors.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held May, 12, 2007, to open the home as the Hurst Hospitality House.

Moving forward for future guests

Oates started the auxiliary 45 years ago. She was president of the group when fundraising began for the house. The total cost to renovate, furnish and put an addition on the home came to $1.2 million, which was raised by the auxiliary.

To keep the home running, Oates said they raise about $30,000 a year.

“We depend on the public to keep us going,” Oates said.

Wendy Wiley, manager of the Hurst Hospitality House, said they have seen much generosity from the community. The house also receives some donations from former guests.

“The impact from people who’ve stayed at the house is just ongoing,” Wiley said.

Recently, a check came in for $500 from someone who stayed there two years ago.

In 2009, the auxiliary started raising funds for a $1 million endowment, of which $928,000 has been raised. Contributions have come from the auxiliary, individual donors, corporate donations and the hospital’s annual golf benefit. The endowment will ensure the home can continue to serve families for years to come.

— Contact Jackie Puglisi at Follow on Twitter @LifeWinStar

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