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Jodie Hook, left, President of the Serenity House Network, and Vice-President, Greg McLaughlin, show one of the 18 properties managed by the organization that supplies affordable housing to families in town for extended medical treatment.

Sen. Carla Nelson thought it would have been easier.

The Rochester Republican said she thought changing local regulations to provide oversight for small lodging houses created specifically for patients and their families would be an easy fix. Certainly, it didn't need state legislation.

In the end, however, it required a legislative change and various negotiations to prevent unintended impacts to other operations providing temporary housing. Following the effort, the Rochester City Council approved adding medical-stay dwelling units to licensed lodging facilities this week.

Mayor Ardell Brede noted it has been a long road. "It was always one of those things," he said. "The line is, 'You can't get there from here,' and that is how it seemed."

Fortunately, Rochester was able to arrive at its destination with the help of Nelson, Rep. Nels Pierson, the Rochester Convention and Visitors Bureau and Hospitality Minnesota, as well as the Olmsted County and Minnesota health departments.

It may have been a long time coming, but it's always been an obvious need for the city's medical visitors, especially transplant and cancer patients. "We already have hundreds of such visitors to our city, and they are treated here," Nelson said, noting the opening of Mayo Clinic's proton-beam therapy program means more patients will be arriving in fragile conditions.

Without Monday's change, most of those patients only had two options: stay in regulated hotels that are routinely inspected or take a chance with long-term rentals that don't face the same regulations. Serenity House Network, which opened its doors in 2008, had been looking to join the ranks of the former.

Serenity House Network offers 18 fully furnished apartments and houses in Rochester catering to medical patients and their families, but it had not been recognized as a regulated lodging establishment before a legislative change this year.

Jodie Hook, Serenity House Network president, said the goal has always been to provide housing for families facing medical needs, but the lack of a lodging license meant the network couldn't advertise in the RCVB lodging guide sent to the patients, which meant potential customers couldn't find them.

We're glad to see the city and state support the efforts of Serenity House Network, but we see the change as part of a growing effort for the city as Destination Medical Center efforts unfold. The changes brought with DMC won't all be grandiose construction efforts. Many will be smaller changes that enhance the patient experience and make Rochester a more welcoming city.

We're already proud of our region and how it openly embraces those who come to Rochester in times of personal crisis, but we also see opportunities to enhance local efforts. That's why we're looking forward to hearing from the DMC Economic Development Agency about its findings regarding the patient experience in Rochester, which have been requested by DMC Corp. board member Bill George.

We anticipate finding comfortable long-term lodging, which should be a simple endeavor, will be among crucial needs identified by visitors, along with a host of other services, big and small.

With that in mind, we expect the change made Monday will open more opportunities in the city, which in turn will spur new ideas on ways to make Rochester and the rest of Southeast Minnesota even more welcoming.

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