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

The employee thought she was hired under Cottage, not the Knox Clinic Corporation. That temp status would exclude her, and others, from severance packages.

GALESBURG, Ill. — In the days after Galesburg Cottage Hospital's closure, some employees are realizing there may be more to their termination than what they originally thought. 

News 8 spoke to one now-terminated nurse who was let go shortly after the hospital closed its doors on Saturday, Jan. 8, and pronounced all services would be temporarily suspended. She claims that the hospital's administration knowingly hired her to work under a company other than Cottage, making her as a temp agent without telling her. 

Her identity is being kept secret, for safety purposes.

This nurse alleges that she was one of nearly 100 employees hired over the course of 2021. She was offered her job in the summer of last year, with the intention of working at Cottage. It was where she reported to work each day and also who she thought she was employed under. 

RELATED: Cottage Hospital temporarily closes, patients evacuated, more staff fired

On her hiring paperwork, shared with News 8, everything, from the logos to the specific wording within (including the opening line, reading, "Welcome to Galesburg Cottage Hospital!") indicated she was working for Cottage. At the end of the letter, signed by Dawn Tatro in Human Resources, it reads, "Again, welcome to Cottage Hospital!" 

The employee was also offered a $10,000 signing bonus, which was to be paid out over six-month increments over the next two years. She confirmed that she did receive the first payment of $2,500. 

But after being terminated, she was sent a proof of claim form in the mail, and began thinking things weren't right. 

That proof of claim, shared with News 8, appears to be for employees whose business has gone bankrupt. The employee tells us she was confused, since Cottage Hospital hadn't filed for bankruptcy. Instead, the Knox Clinic Corporation had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Jan. 3

The clinic is a completely separate business from the hospital, although the two are closely associated and owned by the same family: Dr. Sanjay Sharma, his wife, Priyam and son, Sanyam. 

It wasn't long until the nurse realized she was getting the form because she was technically employed under the Knox Clinic Corporation, according to her former owners. And instead of telling her, they had allegedly been having her work at Cottage as a temp agent without telling her. 

"All of us thought we were working at Cottage, not the clinics," said the nurse. "I had no idea I was temp-agencied over to the hospital!" 

RELATED: OSF dedicates hotline for former Cottage Hospital patients seeking care

That distinction means that her, and any other employees working under the clinic, are ineligible for the severance packages that Cottage employees have been receiving. 

We should note that multiple staff members have showed their severance offers to News 8 and range anywhere from $1,000 to just over $3,000. Additionally, many former employees have alleged they haven't been paid for several days of work and have been unable to get answers on how they'll be paid for unused vacation days and similar promised expenses. 

"We really can't do much, we're just kind of out of luck," said the former employee. "We've been given no instruction on how to fill out this form or anything. There's not much we can do, as employees, on the bankruptcy side of things due to them hiring us on the other side." 

But there may be hope for this employee and others in her same situation. 

One Rock Island lawyer News 8 spoke to suggests this particular employee, along with all of her former colleagues who were working as temp agents, file a lawsuit against Cottage. In fact, he says they could potentially bring this matter to the attention of the Illinois Attorney General. 

He argues the paperwork that specifically mentioned Cottage, along with the employees handbook given out to this nurse which also mentions Cottage, are a strong argument that she was deceived. 

But for now, the nurse tells us she feels stuck, and has yet to see the remaining $7,500 of her signing bonus. Now, she says she's just trying to navigate having no job, no insurance, and no answers from the hospital or the Sharma family. 

Cottage Hospital and the Sharmas did not respond to requests for comment on this story. 

Find WQAD's full Galesburg Cottage Hospital coverage here.