MARQUETTE - Patients and their families seeking treatment at Marquette General Hospital have had a home away from home for 20 years.
Beacon House - which provides inexpensive and sometimes free lodging to guests traveling to Marquette for medical care - recently celebrated it's 20th anniversary and eighth year at its current location on Third Street.
The non-profit organization runs solely on donations from guests, businesses, organizations and individuals in the community. Now in its 20th year, the Beacon House needs the community's continuing help more than ever.
The Beacon House, Upper Michigan's Hospitality House, located on Third Street in Marquette is seen here recently. (Journal photo by Danielle Pemble)
Due to the economy and financial problems, MGH - one of Beacon House's major donors - can no longer provide funding for the organization, according to Brian Hartzell, director of development for Beacon House.
MGH donated as much as $100,000 to Beacon House in 2008. That amount fell to $50,000 in 2009 and $25,000 just last June.
Hartzell said he was told the $25,000 donation would be the last from the hospital.
"We are here to support Marquette General Hospital, that is our primary mission and the families that it serves," he said. "But Marquette General is no longer able to donate to support our bottom line which means we're much more reliant now, than we have ever been, on the support of the public."
Hartzell said many people don't realize the hospital and Beacon House are two separate entities. The original Beacon House was started in a four-bedroom home by the Marquette General Hospital Auxiliary in 1990. It was run by the hospital and provided lodging for radiation and oncology patients who lived too far away from home to commute back and forth to Marquette for treatment. The organization later expanded to a second home to accommodate family members of MGH patients.
In 2002, MGH needed the land the two homes were on to build its new emergency room.
Hartzell said a group from the auxiliary decided to form it's own non-profit organization and bought the Village Inn on Third Street - an old motel - and converted it into the new Beacon House while preserving the mission and spirit of the original facility.
"In doing that a lot of people made the assumption that the hospital continued to run or own the program," Hartzell said. "The day we became a separate non-profit was the day the hospital ceased to have an ownership stake in our program, though they did still generously support this organization through some funding, as much as $100,000 a year."
Hartzell said Beacon House has just started its first sustained annual fundraising campaign called "Almost Home."
"When people think of Beacon House, they think 'almost home.' That literally means we're as close to being home as your own home. And it goes in with the thought that we're a home away for home for families that need to be here during a time of medical emergency," he said. He said he has also been to see a majority of chief executives in hospitals around the Upper Peninsula to help spread awareness of Beacon House.
Hartzell said the organization plans on mailing information about the campaign to 4,200 donors and 850 prospective donors in the coming weeks.
The 34-bedroom facility at 1301 North Third St. has most of the comforts of home, including a fully-equipped kitchen and dining room, TV lounge, children's playroom, laundry and quiet areas. The Harbor Lounge is reserved for cancer patients who may desire more peace and quiet and don't need as much contact with other guests. The House is staffed by three full-time and four part-time employees, and supported by another 25-30 volunteers. It has served over 90,000 guests since 2002, according to its website. It is the only hospitality house in the U.P. Hartzell said the Benjamin B. Blum Hospitality House in Petoskey, which serves Northern Michigan Regional Health System, is the next closest - but not for long. Unlike Beacon House, the health system owns the Benjamin Blum house and is closing it on Saturday for budgetary reasons.
"I really fear for the 75-year-old woman whose husband suddenly has a heart attack and they transport her husband to that hospital for treatment - he's going to be in there for a week. She wants to be at his bedside and her only oppturnity after the 18th is to stay at a 65-dollar-a-night motel two miles away with no food, no kitchen, no support from volunteers and staff ... and possibly no transportation either to get from the hotel to the hospital," he said, adding the Benjamin Blum house is directly across the street from the hospital.
Hartzell said volunteers and staff at Beacon House often become close with patients and their families.
"They become part of your life. They're like family. Over the course of my career I can think of dozens of families and people who I got so close to. They got under my skin," he said. "You get to thinking of them after a while and saying 'I wonder how they're doing now.' If you're a barber or working in a retail store you don't worry that much about the people who cross your life. But we touch a lot of families lives and they touch ours in return."
For more information call 906-225-7100, or go to www.upbeaconhouse.org.
Christopher Diem can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.