Sophy Offers Free Hotel Rooms to Hospital Workers as UChicago’s Hospital Battles COVID-19

Until April 17, UChicago Medicine staffers will be able to rest for free at the Sophy hotel on 53rd Street in between shifts, eliminating the need for them to travel back home.

The+interior+of+the+Sophy+hotel.

The interior of the Sophy hotel.

By Caroline Kubzansky, Managing Editor ('20-'21)

The Sophy Hotel on 53rd Street has suspended its service to the general public and offered accommodations to the staff at the University of Chicago Medical Center (UCMC) as they respond to mounting cases of COVID-19 in Chicago.

Most of the Sophy’s rooms will be available exclusively to UCMC staff through April 17 to help them “rest and restore” between shifts before returning to the hospital.

“SOPHY is part of the tightly knit and supportive Hyde Park community of businesses, institutions and residents. It’s our duty to step up and offer resources to help fight the coronavirus situation in any way that we can,” the hotel’s management wrote in a banner currently on its website.

As of March 27, UCMC was handling 50 cases of COVID-19, according to a press conference with Emily Landon, the hospital’s infectious diseases expert. As of April 1, there have been 5,998 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 100 deaths due to the virus reported in Illinois.

Beach told The Maroon that the hotel’s business evaporated as the pandemic unfolded, forcing management to significantly adjust the hotel’s staffing levels and to consider discontinuing operations altogether. 

“Our occupancies have dipped below 10 percent; we have had to lay off a number of team members, and we were in peril of having to suspend a lot of operations,” Beach said.

As it became clear that pandemic response was becoming the new normal, Beach said that the management of the Sophy concluded that “this is our opportunity to contribute. Instead of rating [charging for] our rooms, we decided to just donate them.” 

The University is not compensating the Sophy in any way for the space it is offering to UCMC staff, according to Beach.

So far, about 40 UCMC staff members have taken advantage of the Sophy’s offer. Beach said that he had about 500 “room nights” booked as of Tuesday morning, meaning that the Sophy will have a cumulative 500 rooms occupied over the period from now until April 17. 

The hotel has made all non-alcoholic minibar items complementary and expanded its housekeeping hours to further accommodate its guests. To protect Sophy workers from potential exposure to the virus, Beach said that the hotel has implemented several no-contact procedures and cleaning regimens. 

For instance, the Sophy has pre-checked in guests and set up their keys ahead of time to minimize contact at the front desk. They are also only administering housekeeping services upon request to limit the potential exposure of employees to the virus. 

“Our cleaners are using gloves and smocks. There is definitely minimal interaction with the guests themselves,” Beach said. “We’ve also purchased a sanitizer station and increased our chemical levels and purchased additional cleaners” approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for surface sanitizing and other hygiene precautions.

Beach said that the Sophy will reevaluate its current setup on April 17 and either continue donating rooms or begin to offer them at a steeply discounted rate. 

He emphasized that the Sophy’s involvement in fighting COVID-19 was small compared to the sacrifices of the medical staff they currently serve.

“Everyone’s coming together to support and get ourselves through this as best we can,” he said. “What we’re contributing is actually a small fraction of everything that they’re going through on a daily basis.”