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Ombudsman: Cottage Clinic failed to notify patients it was terminating medical staff

The Cottage Clinic building at 834 N. Seminary St. in Galesburg is shown here in 2019.
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The Cottage Clinic building at 834 N. Seminary St. in Galesburg is shown here in 2019.

A large backlog of medical request records at Galesburg’s Cottage Clinic has been resolved, but the ombudsman overseeing the quality of patient care during the clinic’s bankruptcy proceedings has ongoing concerns about communication and cash flow within remaining operations.

Ombudsman Deborah Fish noted that clinic leadership terminated five medical staff on Friday, April 29, without prior notice to her, patients, or the staff.

Among those terminated were a physician’s assistant and family medicine nurse practitioner who had scheduled patients on the coming Monday and in the weeks to come.

“The scheduled patients were notified late Friday and were left to reschedule with the Family Practice clinic or seek services elsewhere,” Fish wrote in her latest ombudsman report, which covers March 24 to May 12.

Seeking a stable environment

Fish was appointed patient care ombudsman in January, after Cottage CEO Sanjay Sharma filed chapter 11 bankruptcy for the clinic in the Eastern District of Michigan.

That filing came days before Cottage Hospital – also owned by Sharma – suspended operations as it was set to lose Medicare and Medicaid funding due to numerous violations.

The hospital never reopened, and the Illinois Department of Public Health later revoked its license.

While the clinic has remained open, it's been significantly downsized, with only a family medicine practice still in operation.

Those terminated on April 29 included the remainder of the medical staff in the women’s health clinic – the physician in that clinic left in March – and several medical staff members in the family practice clinic. 

Fish wrote in the latest report she is seeking “a stable environment for patients and staff” amid proceedings and that she has repeatedly advised Sharma and his counsel that effective communication to staff and patients is essential.

“Otherwise the rumor mills start and staff will quit and patients will go elsewhere,” Fish wrote.

Cash flow concerns

In a previous report, Fish noted Cottage had a backlog of more than 1,500 medical records requests, which could impact patients’ care at other facilities.

As of May 12, there were only two unfulfilled requests, according to Fish.

Fish said Cottage rectified the issue and is fulfilling requests “within the parameters” of state law.

But she continues to have concerns about cash flow at the clinic, in large part due to perpetual downsizing.

Not being able to make payroll or purchase necessary supplies would have “an immediate adverse effect” on the quality of care for remaining Cottage patients, Fish wrote.

What remains of Cottage is operating out of a single suite in the clinic building at 834 N. Seminary St., which is now owned by OSF HealthCare.

According to the ombudsman report, Cottage has secured a lease for that suite through June 30, but Sharma is now looking for a new location for the clinic that would be smaller – and more cost-effective.

Fish has advised Sharma to assemble a plan to notify patients of the new clinic location – or point them toward obtaining telehealth services, should Cottage not end up maintaining a physical location after June 30.

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