GALESBURG, Ill. — After weeks of unexpected terminations, bankruptcy announcements and a dramatic evacuation, the former CEO of Galesburg Cottage Hospital tells News 8 the staff he knows are a loving, hardworking family.
On Saturday, Jan. 8, Cottage Hospital officially closed its doors, after evacuating staff and patients. Hours later the facility's owner and CEO, Dr. Sanjay Sharma, sent out an email to staff announcing all of the hospital's services had been temporarily suspended.
The news came less than one week before Cottage was set to lose all funding from Medicare and Medicaid, after government investigators found a dangerous situation inside the building. In reports obtained by News 8, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found the hospital was so understaffed that it was posing risk of serious injury, impairment or death to employees and patients.
Shortly after the government announced it would be pulling the funding, which accounted for 73% of the hospital's inpatient revenue in 2020, the Sharmas told staff the clinic associated with Cottage had filed for bankruptcy. While the Knox Clinic Corporation is a separate business from Cottage, both are owned by the Sharma family, and the surgeons at the hospital had been employed through the clinic (before being unexpectedly terminated on Jan. 5).
While the doors to Cottage are now closed, Bob Moore remembers a time, not so long ago, when the hospital was full of people he calls his family.
"Knox County is very loyal and dedicated," said Moore, the previous CEO. "It is family, and family can be good and bad. But that family is a good one."
Moore took over as interim CEO of Cottage in June 2019. When his company, Quorum Health Corporation, began the process of selling the hospital to SBJ Group Inc. in early 2020, he got to meet the Sharmas.
"I met the Sharmas in January of 2020, when they had expressed interest in acquiring it and I was asked to work with them and give them the information that they needed," Moore said.
Over the next few months, he said he was able to meet Dr. Sanjay Sharma, his wife, Priyam, and their son, Sanyam.
"I had no impressions one way or the other, to be honest with you," Moore said.
By June of 2020, the sale had gone through and Moore had moved on. But only six months later, he began to hear that things at Cottage might not be what they seemed.
"Some of my team members were looking to leave and asking me for references," Moore said.
Still, he said it was the middle of a pandemic that was already turning health care on its head, so he tried not to read into it too much. But as the months went by, more cracks began to show.
"When you see some of the senior leaders leaving the organization, that's when I think a lot of the concerns began," Moore said.
Today, we know the Sharmas fired 128 employees between March 2021 and November 2021. In the weeks that followed, all but one of the associated surgeons were terminated unexpectedly, along with nurses, anesthesiologists, receptionists and even cleaning staff.
Government reports from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services also show tense, dangerous situations inside the hospital that came as a direct result of the understaffed teams.
In June 2021, a patient needing CPR was unable to receive it, due to a lack of available nurses. That same patient, eventually dying.
"I've never seen something like this happen," said Moore. "I don't know the insides of the business, but it's pretty hard to kill a hospital."
Now, Moore says he's been left just as confused as the staff he once led.
"There's a lot of heart there. And that heart … it was destroyed," he said, noting that a community without Cottage is one where no one seems to win. "The history and the lives that have been saved that walked through those doors … that community is never going to get that back."