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Q and A with Dr. Sharma CEO of Cottage Hospital

By Courtney Bibo

Published November 4, 2021 in The Burg

I’m sure many of you have heard the buzz around town that Cottage Hospital has a new owner. I’m also sure you have heard many of the rumors surrounding the changes made by administration lately. I wanted to give The Burg readers an opportunity to hear directly from the CEO, Dr. Sharma, and get some burning questions answered.

Q: What month/year did you take over?

A: June 25, 2020.

Q: What made you decide to purchase this hospital?

A: We are “turn around” specialists, so we look at dozens of hospitals across the country, narrow that list down to around five and do a deeper dive to find out what fits our expertise. Out of those, sometimes we are able to identify one that makes sense for both us and the hospital. This hospital was very sustainable, looked like it could benefit from what we could offer, and had a strong likelihood of growing once the ship was set on the right course. We strongly felt and still know that we can rebuild this hospital and have been taking steps to do so.

Q: What has been the single most difficult thing about running this organization?

A: Given the way we look at hospitals to get involved with, there were many issues with Galesburg when we stepped into the shoes as owners. The IT infrastructure that was controlled by CHS was among the most difficult aspects to correct. Due to its entanglement with other third parties and the lack of support from those third parties, many changes were unnecessarily delayed beyond our control. This led to frustration throughout the organization. We have changed the IT system as of June of this year. Large projects like this mean that we are still refining it, but it will continue to improve as we move forward.

Large changes like this are always difficult for everyone involved, so a large part of the transition is not just the technical changes, but also working with our team members to make sure those changes we’ve implemented are used to their fullest potential. Secondarily, Quorum had filed for bankruptcy shortly before we acquired the hospital, and this has led to issues around making sure the community knows that the hospital is open and fully operational. Though bankruptcy is a technical legal process, it evokes concern in the community, especially when it is associated with a longstanding institution like Cottage.

We are working hard by providing better customer service and more service lines to change perceptions.

Q: Some people feel Cottage cannot keep providers. How would you respond to that?

A: It is quite the contrary. We just added a cardiologist. We are waiting for a pulmonologist to get his Illinois license so he can begin practicing. People move around and it is not a huge concern. It should also be said that it makes sense for both us and some physicians who have left to no longer be at Cottage. Generally, we are not only able to retain providers, we have been adding new providers at a rate higher than previous ownership.

Another important point worth mentioning is that if we ever feel that patients’ dignity, privacy, or care is ever being compromised, that provider will not work at Cottage.

Q: I've heard a "bunch of nurses were fired." What do you say to that?

It is important to understand that two publicly traded, multi-billion-dollar organizations (Quorum and CHS before that) decided they could not afford to run this hospital because they were unable to adjust and modernize the hospital in a timely fashion. It is our job and expertise to do exactly that. For example, outpatient clinics rarely, if ever, staff RNs. We did not immediately remove every RN from our outpatient clinics, but for those reductions that were made, each RN was offered a job to work in the main hospital on our floors, surgery suites, and emergency department, and would have received a 60 percent raise. Due to their own preferences (i.e., only wanting to work 8-5) none of them took us up on the offer. Though we aim to be flexible to keep as many people around as possible, it was impossible to accommodate those who only wanted to work 8-5 when we are open 24/7 and hospital nurses work different shifts accordingly. We are never closed, and we need to have staff that are willing to work with us to make sure we work that way.

Q: People have expressed they don't want to go to Cottage because they've "heard bad things" or that it's "unsafe." What would you like to say to that?

A: In turnaround situations, because changes are happening so fast and are bigger out of necessity, many rumors arise. We believe that over the long run, facts speak for themselves. The facts are that we are a hospital, accredited by the Joint commission. The Joint Commission is the gold standard of safe and high-quality healthcare accreditation agency which accredits and certifies 22,000 hospitals across the country. We have a medical staff comprised of about 70 highly trained medical providers, representing about 20 medical specialties, located in three Western Illinois communities: Galesburg, Knoxville, and Monmouth, and, when combined, there are a total of 85,000 annual visits. We provide advanced technology such as digital breast tomosynthesis with artificial intelligence and a robotically guided surgical program for knee replacement. We see 13,000 patients per year in the ER. We are bringing back pulmonology and Cardiology; starting bariatric surgery and outpatient psychiatry. We have the area’s only 16-bed, secured, geriatric-psychiatric inpatient unit specializing in comprehensive mental health

services and crisis stabilization. We have an award-winning wound healing center with two hyperbaric oxygen chambers and it’s the only facility of its kind in a 55-mile radius. The walk-in clinic in Monmouth and Knoxville are very busy practices. Cottage is busier than it has been in over a year and is primed to take more patients and deliver more quality care as we continue to grow.

Q: What do you want the community to know?

A: That Cottage Hospital is committed to providing excellent individualized compassionate care to our community. We are advocates for promoting from within and the new DON has a master's degree with experience in all aspects of medicine including medical/surgical, ER, wound center, and psychiatry, which are our bigger lines of service. The Director of Quality has been appointed as of October 27, 2021. We chose Cottage hospital in Galesburg over so many other hospitals across the country because we like to work in communities like Galesburg. I earned my PhD at the University of Illinois in Champaign in 1999 and have an affinity for this state. One of my sons was born in Illinois. We lived in Illinois for 10 years and we know and understand what this hospital needs. We have a different, direct approach that is very different than that of a large corporation. We want the community to know that we want to be a part of their family and that we are trying to take the hospital from just an asset of a corporate mindset to a privately owned and operated organization in and of the community.

Q: What is the long-term plan for cottage?

We have 133 licensed beds. Of those, we have 16 older-adult psych beds and 12 ICU beds. We are

growing services in pulmonology, cardiac, bariatrics, and outpatient and inpatient psychiatry. The Medical Surgical ward has a capacity of 60 beds so that leaves us with 45 beds. There is a huge need for psychiatry in the community so we will be getting some of those beds for inpatient Psychiatry. We have been approved for 14 additional beds for Psychiatry and will be starting construction on that soon. It is better to put those beds to use for the people who need it rather than keeping them empty. We will continue to operate and grow our medical (non-behavioral health) capabilities as well.

Q: Any last comments?

We are offering a $10,000 retention bonus for nurses, currently in effect. Drs. Hill and Strauch have expressed they are staying to see some of the patients and not leaving any time soon. And no, I do not own the Dairy Queen in town!

The 20 specialties referred to in the interview are the following: Cardiac, Emergency Medicine, Family Medicine, Gastrointestinal, General Surgery, Gynecology (Women’s Health), Intensive Care, Internal Medicine, Nephrology, Neurology, Ophthalmic Surgery, Orthopedic, Pathology, Pediatrics, Physical Therapy, Podiatry, Psychiatry, Pulmonology, Urology, Wound Care.

I hope this interview will put to rest some rumors and restore faith in Cottage Hospital once again. As always, feel free to reach out to me with any comments or questions at I’d love to hear from you!

(Courtney Garland Bibo has a bachelor's in psychology, has her cosmetology license and still runs a salon, works as a Registered Nurse, and is in her third year of her Doctor of Nursing Practice/Family Nurse Practitioner program with Psychiatric Mental Health and Rural Health concentrations at University of Illinois at Chicago- Quad Cities Campus.)

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