WORTHINGTON - Sixteen years after Worthington’s Sunset Hospice Cottage opened its doors, its board of directors is announcing a fundraising campaign to grow its endowment fund to $50,000.

The funds will be used to help with expenses for those in their last stage of life - people who aren’t able to afford hospice care in the facility.

Hospice Cottage Inc. President Susanne Murphy said creating an endowment has been on the minds of board members for some time, and it’s finally becoming a reality.

“As a board, we think that since sickness and disease doesn’t discriminate, neither should a checkbook,” Murphy said. “We want to be able to help everybody.”

Alan Oberloh, vice president of Hospice Cottage Inc., said the board has heard at least three times in the last year from people who were unaware they could have received care at the cottage.

“There are certain things insurance will pay for and some of the hospice care is not covered - the room and board part of it,” Oberloh said.

Because of strong data privacy rules, care providers can’t release information to the cottage on who may need financial assistance to stay at the cottage for end-of-life care. Oberloh said the cottage has to rely on families to provide that information.

“Our goal this year, more than ever, is to get the message across to health care providers … that we have the cottage here and we want to make use of it,” Oberloh said. “The social worker, or whoever’s dealing with the patient, needs to make the effort to let them know there are other means (for funding).

“We’re trying more and more to put emphasis on endowment so we don’t turn anyone away for lack of ability to pay,” he added.

Murphy wants people to understand the cottage is open to all.

“We don’t want to turn anyone away,” she said. “We have sadly heard that people have come to Hospice and taken a look at it and saw it was so nice - so complete and so beautiful - that they thought they couldn’t afford it.”

Less than 12 hours after the board took action to create the endowment, Murphy said she received a phone call from a former Worthington resident whose mother needed hospice care.

“He said, ‘Mom doesn’t have any money and we know that’s a problem,” Murphy shared. “I was happy to say there wasn’t a problem. I could hear the tears in his voice.”

The mission of the cottage is to serve and help people, and creating an endowment will allow them to help all people.

“It’s all about dignity and respect, caring and comfort,” Murphy said. “Hospice matters.”

Both Oberloh and Murphy served on committees that worked to get the cottage built - Murphy on the land acquisition team and Oberloh on the fundraising committee.

“I hoped and prayed … that was the closest I’d ever come to hospice,” Murphy said. “I’ve had employees, friends and my family has used hospice in Illinois. It’s just a passion I have that I can’t ignore.”

As for Oberloh, his involvement with the cottage began with sponsoring the chapel, which spearheaded the fundraising campaign.

“Hospice is a passion for me because I dealt with having to use a hospice facility with my first wife,” he said. “In 2002, we did not have a hospice cottage. When the time came to be involved, it meant something to me.”

Completed in 2003, the cottage features four private rooms, each with a great view of the surrounding grounds, as well as a family room for those visiting from farther away. The facility also has a meditation room, chapel, full kitchen and activity room.

A meditation trail was completed on the cottage grounds in 2005, and past fundraisers have covered expenses for benches, arbors, landscaping, a blanket and towel warmer and updating furniture and appliances.

“Two years ago we bought a wonderful soaking tub for residents,” Murphy said. “Now we feel we’re sitting in a good place with the building, and that’s why we’re building this endowment fund.”

The cottage is staffed by employees of Sanford, and Murphy said there is a group of great volunteers to help as well.

The annual fundraising banquet for the cottage is Saturday evening at the Worthington Event Center. Tickets have already sold out for the banquet, which will include both live and silent auctions. More than 130 items were donated for the fundraiser, noted Murphy. Raffle tickets are also being sold for the chance to win a Coach purse or a meat bundle. All of the money raised during Saturday’s banquet will go toward establishing the endowment.

Anyone wishing to donate to the endowment fund may send contributions to Hospice Cottage, Inc., P.O. Box 203, Worthington.