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'Our family's broken' | Community meeting addresses financial, mental impacts of Cottage Hospital closure

Nearly three weeks after the hospital closed its doors, former employees and patients are still grappling with the impact of Cottage's shutdown.

GALESBURG, Ill. — In the wake of Galesburg Cottage Hospital's sudden closure, former patients and employees have continued to deal with weeks of fallout. While the owners of Cottage allege they're working to reopen the facility, many have their doubts. 

To help both parties move forward, as well as the larger community, a public forum was held Thursday, Jan. 27 in Galesburg. Community leaders joined with local mental health experts and outreach organizations to explore next steps.  

At Thursday night's meeting, many employees and patients in the audience elected to stay quiet and listen to all the services being offered by different community organizations. 

Find the full list of services at the bottom of this article.

However, there were a few questions concerning the future of the community. A local pastor urged the crowd to remember that grief doesn't go away when ignored. A former employee brought up the lack of knowledge about other available doctors and services for patients who have only ever known Cottage. And one mental health provider noted that losing the hospital's geriatric unit would be a huge blow to the region. 

RELATED: Former Cottage Hospital CEO looks back at what went wrong

A Knox County representative also revealed the county had been approached about buying the building. He would not comment further on who had reached out to the county or what the county's next course of action will be. 

But for one former staff member, the meeting was deeply personal. Organizer Mary Ann Pedigo wanted to provide a space for her colleagues and patients to voice their concerns and seek answers. 

"When you lose your job and family, it's like a death," she said. Pedigo noted that the mental state of those touched by Cottage's closure is largely unknown by the rest of the community. "This is a very traumatic experience. I mean, for everybody to have to lose their family - they're used to getting up and going to work and now they don't have that." 

It's a term she - and many former employees - consistently use when discussing Cottage. Countless staffers have told News 8 about the family environment at Cottage, and the way employees relied on each other to stay "Cottage strong."

Losing that close-knit community prompted Pedigo to organize the meeting. 

"It's devastating," she said. "The financial stress, all this stuff, it can break a person mentally down."

Pedigo worked at Cottage back in 2010, before eventually moving out of state. But in December of 2021, she was back in the area and found herself reapplying at the hospital. 

"Back then, the 'old Cottage,' as everyone calls, it was like a family. It was a great place to work for, we loved our patients and the staff as like a family," she said. "I assumed it was the same way when I came back." 

But it didn't take her long to notice that things had drastically changed. 

RELATED: Former Cottage nurse alleges the hospital secretly hired her as a temp agent

Since new owners Dr. Sanjay Sharma and his wife Priyam took over at Cottage in summer 2020, employees were consistently and unexpectedly terminated. Patient care began to suffer due to the lack of staff. Employees were growing frustrated and weary. 

Government reports showed by the time Pedigo came back, the hospital was so understaffed and mismanaged that it was creating a dangerous environment for both staff and patients. At one point, a patient died after there weren't enough nurses to administer CPR.

To Pedigo, the warm atmosphere she had known was gone and replaced with something decidedly "cold."

"My first day on the floor was Dec. 14, and we had no patients. I'm like 'uh oh, what's going on?'" Petigo said. "During my interview they said a new corporation had bought Cottage, and they were reorganizing and bringing in new staff. I wasn't expecting it to be the way it is now."

And her own job title seemed suspicious. Petigo said when she applied and interviewed at Cottage in 2021, she was hoping to receive a position as an older adult floor nurse.

"I was under the impression that I had that position, and when I started they were like 'no, you're the house supervisor.' So I went from floor nurse to house supervisor," she said. "They didn't even ask me if I wanted to be a supervisor, which I really didn't. I'd rather have my patients and take care of them." 

Petigo ended up working at Cottage for a few weeks, up until the doors were closed on Jan. 8. During that time, she said the hospital wasn't getting patients or taking ambulances. Admissions couldn't be accepted due to a lack of staff and she recalls sensing the facility would be closing. 

RELATED: Former Cottage nurse alleges the hospital secretly hired her as a temp agent

She also said there was little-to-no direction from the owners or upper management. Even the federal government's decision to pull Medicare and Medicaid funding from Cottage was told to the staff via the media, not their own supervisors. 

"We knew we were done, but I think the reality didn't hit until it actually closed," Petigo said. "And how they did it was unethical." 

Employees were notified of the closure and service suspension via emails from the Sharmas. Several staff members report they were abruptly terminated through text messages. 

"Cottage is like a big family. When you work med surge, you know all the staff on med surge. You become close to them, they have your back and help you, same with any unit there," Petigo said. "You become one. A family. And our family's broken." 

This was why she began reaching out to the Galesburg mayor and other community leaders, trying to get the word out that Cottage employees and patients needed help. 

"I wasn't even there a month. But I see the hurt looks in people. I see them crying, and it bothers me," Petigo said. "I've been a psych nurse, and that's what psych nurses do is we think of the mental health and want to reach out and help." 

Services and Assistance

Some of the following options were presented to former patients and employees who may be in need of assistance:

  • Hotline: OSF St. Mary, the other hospital in Galesburg, has set up a hotline to help answer questions of patients who are seeking a transfer in care. That line is 309-344-9438. It's staffed from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and any calls outside that timeframe can leave a voicemail.
  • Care transfer: Graham Health System is offering time and assistance to any patients now seeking a new healthcare provider or doctor. You can visit their website here
  • Public health: Michele Gabriel at Public Health offered time and services at the community meeting. She can be reached at 309-344-2224 or via email at mgabriel@knoxcountyhealth.org. 
  • Medicare assistance: Dorothy Lam with American Senior Benefits was also present at the public forum. She can assist with Medicare supplements, advantages, and questions surrounding further care. She can be reached at 866-323-7249 or via email at dlam@americanseniorbenefits.com. 
  • Unemployment assistance: The Workforce Office of Western Illinois will be holding zoom meetings for former Cottage employees to explain what unemployment options and benefits are available. Those will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 2 at 9 a.m. and Thursday, Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. For more information you can visit the office's website or call 309-343-9832. 
  • Rent assistance: The Salvation Army is providing rent, utility and mortgage assistance to those impacted by Cottage Hospital. For more information you can visit the local office or call 309-342-9168.
  • Grief group: Leaders at Galesburg's First Lutheran Church are trying to put together a grief group to help process the traumas of losing a job, career, provider and more. Organizers also stress it doesn't have to be church or Christian based. For more information you can call the church at 309-343-3176. 
  • Mental health and substance abuse: Bridgeway Inc. is offering resources and time to any community members impacted by Cottage's closure. The nonprofit offers services in substance use disorder treatment, mental health first aid training, community collaborations and more. To learn more, you can call 309-344-2323. 
  • Suicide prevention: The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention has professionals ready to assist if you or a loved one is struggling with suicide. You can call 1-800-273-8255 or text 741741.

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