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Cottage has backlog of 1,500 medical records requests; one doctor remains employed at clinic

Heather Norman
Tri States Public Radio
One doctor remains employed at Cottage Clinics, according to an ombudsman overseeing patient care amid bankruptcy proceedings. Administration is being asked to address a large backlog of medical records requests.

An ombudsman appointed to oversee patient care amid bankruptcy proceedings for Galesburg’s Cottage Clinics has concerns about the number of unfulfilled medical records requests from patients.

On Jan. 25, Deborah L. Fish was appointed patient care ombudsman in the case by a federal judge, several weeks after the clinic filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.

In a March 23 report covering the status of operations at the greatly downsized clinic, Fish noted a backlog of 1,500 unfulfilled medical records requests, due to the number of practices that were closed at the time of the bankruptcy filing.

“This number is unacceptable and may impact a patient’s care at a new facility,” Fish noted.

Cottage Hospital suspended operations on Jan. 8, days before it was set to lose Medicare and Medicaid participation due to numerous violations.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has since revoked the hospital’s license, but the affiliated clinic remains in operation.

One doctor remains employed

Following the bankruptcy filing and hospital closure, only family practice and women’s health specialties remained at the clinic.

But according to the ombudsman’s recent report, women’s health is no longer operating at the clinic as of March 15.

That leaves 42 people employed by Cottage, including one doctor.

The hospital and clinics once were one of Galesburg’s largest employers.

Fish noted Cottage had around 30,000 patients at the time of the bankruptcy filing.

That has decreased to 12,000 patients on record since then and is expected to decline further as patients transition away from the clinic, according to the report.

Communication, staffing concerns

The clinic administration has pledged to hire temporary staff that would remain employed until the backlog is reduced and medical records requests can be fulfilled within two business days.

Another concern outlined in the report is a need for better communication with staff.

“It is essential to patient care and the continuity of care that especially during the bankruptcy process there is clear communication with the staff and direction to the staff,” Fish wrote. “The staff members need to know if they can schedule future appointments and follow-up appointments with certainty of care for the patients."

Administration will now provide weekly emails to the staff to address that concern.

In addition, an employee who was serving as both head of human resources and chief of operations is now only working evenings and weekends after accepting a full-time job elsewhere.

Another staff member was promoted to manage clinic operations, but still has another full-time job at the clinic.

That situation will be monitored to ensure staffing issues do not affect patient care.

Fish noted no current issues with the quality of patient care at the clinic, however.

Change in venue requested

Several former Cottage physicians have filed for a change in venue in the bankruptcy case, which was filed in the Eastern District of Michigan.

They argue the majority of creditors, including many former employees, are in Illinois, so the case should be transferred to the Central District of Illinois in Peoria.

A hearing for the change in venue was scheduled for Thursday, March 24.

Jane Carlson covers west central Illinois and southeast Iowa for Tri States Public Radio.