Refund for medically-fragile group’s conference initially refused by hotel

WGN Investigates
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Months before COVID-19 became a household term, a blood and bone marrow transplant support group booked its annual conference at an east coast hotel.

As COVID-19 spread, so did the group’s concern and eventually their frustration mounted.

“Quite literally, our folks are the poster child for who should not be going to large events,” conference organizer Susan Stewart said.

North shore resident Susan Stewart runs the Blood & Marrow Transplant Information Network. 

It’s a non-profit that helps transplant patients make critical decisions before and after their procedures. As awareness about COVID-19 grew, the group tried to cancel their 350-person conference booked for late April at the Hilton at Boston’s Logan airport.

“There is nowhere we could ethically put people in a room where they might be exposed to the coronavirus because for them, it could be lethal,” Stewart said.

On March 9, Stewart emailed Hilton to cancel. Hilton said they would only get a full refund if holding the conference is “impossible.”

“It is not illegal or impossible for the hotel to hold the event (as an aside, nor is there anything preventing you from holding the event),” Hilton wrote in an email.

The hotel said it would keep the $5,000 deposit and the non-profit owed $56,421 plus tax.

Last week, WGN Investigates got involved. A Hilton spokesperson said the email was a “negotiation” of canceling fees.

“I think they’re a little tone deaf,” Stewart said.

Monday, a large Chicago law firm sent the hotel a scolding letter.

As Boston’s mayor has banned large group gatherings, Hilton relented and offered a full refund.

For Stewart and other transplant recipients, the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 will last even longer than it does for the general public.

“For our group: There is really no way to predict when it will be a safe time to hold this symposium again,” Stewart said.

Stewart told WGN she is please Hilton decided to reverse its decision.


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