Upper Valley Hostel

A home away from home that provides comfort and quiet for patients and families

Patients and caregivers often need an affordable place to stay during hospital visits. Many say this hostel’s residential feel and quiet location offer a peace that helps them to concentrate on healing and care.

Preston Conklin happened to notice a sign in a display case at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center: Upper Valley Hostel, Rooms Available. Clearly, it was meant for patients and families of patients. Intrigued, he looked into it. "I stayed at the hostel three or four nights in a row during a number of weeks in 2010," he says. "In 2011, 2012, and 2013, I was there two nights in a row once each year.

People come for one or two nights, visit during repeating treatment, or stay for months at a time

"I live a two-hour drive away, so each stay saved a four-hour drive round trip," he continues. "I would have used a motel or hotel a few times, but they are too expensive to use all the time. No commercial lodging can provide the hostel's residential feel and quiet location."

Tucked on the corner of a quiet street near Hanover High School, the Upper Valley Hostel has occupied its graceful, lovingly landscaped 100-year-old home for 34 years. "The peace this place offers is what our guests really appreciate," says Elizabeth Clarke, the hostel's executive director.

On a full night, the hostel houses 16 guests in seven double bedrooms and two singles; Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays tend to have the highest occupancy. Most are short-term, one-to-three-night stays, such as Conklin's, but long stays are not uncommon. A California woman stayed from October through January after her husband suffered a stroke while they were on a leaf-peeping vacation in New Hampshire. "It's nice to be here for people in that situation," comments Clarke. "They were a long way from home, didn't know anybody here and didn't know the area. She was very grateful for the comfort the hostel provided her while she concentrated her energies on her husband."

Created when doctors saw that patients needed an affordable place to stay during treatment

The hostel, established in 1978, grew out of conversations by members of what was then the Dartmouth Medical School's Ethics Committee. Doctors on the committee noticed that some of their out-patients at Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital who lived out of the area, and families of inpatients, needed an affordable place to stay while being treated at the hospital – some resorted to sleeping in their cars. The initial "hostel" was extra bed space in local area homes. By 1980, the hostel was formally organized in its present location, with the purchase of the home made possible "through the inspiring kindness of a small group of concerned and generous area residents," according to Clarke.

"Being off the medical campus is very valuable," notes Conklin. "The hostel's quiet atmosphere–there's no TV sound from rooms next door–is welcome. Bus service to the medical center is excellent, and the Hanover location allowed me to walk to restaurants, the town library, Dartmouth's museums, and other attractions like the orchid collection at Dartmouth's greenhouse, for one. Also having access to Baker Library, Hopkins Center events, and trails down to the river to hike."

Home-like amenities include a computer for guest use and fresh flowers

Amenities inside are home-like and comfortable. There's a computer for guest use, a large flat-screen television in the living room and another TV in the eating area. Willing Hands in Lebanon, which distributes the Hanover Co-Op's unsold fresh produce to food banks and others in need, delivers fresh flowers on Monday mornings. The hostel's bedspreads were recently replaced and walls regularly receive fresh coats of paint. The kitchen is comfortable and the eating area, called the café, is bright with sunlight and cheer.

"Some enduring friendships have been created right around that table," says Patrick Kearney, the hostel's house manager, pointing to a wooden dining table in a sunny corner circled by well-used chairs.

Kearney (he is Olympic mogul skier Hannah Kearney's uncle) also acts as a counselor of sorts for guests who are staying at the hostel as a result of an organ transplant. Twenty years ago, he received a new kidney, and he still enjoys giving a word of encouragement to organ donors or recipients. "It means a lot to talk to someone who has experience with a transplant when you're waiting and don't really know what to expect," he says. 

Conklin is effusive: "The staff has been superb during all my stays."

An upcoming capital campaign is in the planning stages for a modest updating to the facility and its interior decor. Other fundraising efforts for the hostel include an annual miniature golf tournament in September and annual giving plans for donors. (Read more about how to support the hostel)

The nightly rate at the Upper Valley Hostel is $25 per person and breakfast is available. (Reservations are required.) The actual cost to the hostel for a stay is more than twice that, so it's a good deal. The added benefit is being around people who understand the stresses that each are experiencing—as a patient or a loved one.

May 06, 2014