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Louisiana Hotelier Offers Free Rooms To Medical Workers

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Last month, Raj Patel was talking with his friend, a doctor, who sounded absolutely exhausted.

RAJ PATEL: We were talking over dinner, and I come to find out that he was sleeping in his garage.

GREENE: Sleeping on a sofa in his garage because, after long shifts at the hospital there in Baton Rouge, La., he was worried he might spread the coronavirus.

PATEL: He was afraid for his own family.

GREENE: He told Patel that he even ate meals in that garage because he didn't want to risk sitting at his own dining room table.

PATEL: It was shocking because, you know, he's out there all day helping other individuals but nobody was there to offer him help.

GREENE: Now, Raj Patel, he knows a thing or two about hospitality. Drive across Louisiana and you might end up staying in one of his hotels.

PATEL: I currently have five OYO Hotels, a couple of Motel 6's, a Red Roof Inn, a Comfort Suites...

GREENE: A lot of properties, all hit hard by this pandemic. He's using up his savings to stay open while he applies for federal loan programs so he can keep his staff. He has plenty of empty rooms right now, so, of course, he got his friend out of that garage.

PATEL: Oh, he was ecstatic - you know, getting a room with a nice king size bed, take a nice, good hot shower.

GREENE: And this gave him an idea - offer hotel rooms to medical workers for free. It made the evening news.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: Free hotel rooms to nurses, doctors, medical professionals...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Offering a place for those hospital workers to get some much needed rest.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: Lauren, this is absolutely incredible. The manager is Raj Patel. He manages...

GREENE: Patel brought up his idea to the CEO of OYO Hotels.

PATEL: In literally 24 to 48 hours, they were offering free rooms to all medical first responders throughout the United States.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEDICAL MONITOR BEEPING)

GREENE: It is 9 p.m. at Sterling Place, a nursing home in Baton Rouge. It has been a long week.

MONICA HOLMES: Just because I've been working long hours, sometimes 16-hour shifts.

GREENE: Monica Holmes is a nurse there. Just upstairs are the patients with COVID-19.

HOLMES: Today we have three cases. This weekend, Saturday and Sunday, will be my first time working with them.

GREENE: So when her shift ends tonight, she'll head back to the hotel she's been staying in for the past month. It is one of the places Raj Patel owns.

HOLMES: They've been very helpful. I mean, we have a hot plate in there, so we can cook. And we have some pictures on a nightstand. And you know, we try to clean it like we would our own house. Hopefully, eventually, we can go back to living normal again.

GREENE: Living normal - I mean, there's no telling when we're actually going to experience that again. So like so many small business owners working through all this, Raj Patel is redefining the way he runs things - at least for now - even if it means losing money, just as long as it gets him through this pandemic. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.