She grew up in Alton, went to school in St. Louis and started her career as a nurse.
More than 35 years later, Patti Fischer is interim president and CEO at St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a 144-bed facility that moved from Belleville to O'Fallon in November. She started Monday, the day before officials publicly announced the resignation of former leader Peg Sebastian.
"It's a beautiful new hospital," Fischer said Thursday after four days on the job. "The people are very nice. They've been very warm and very welcoming."
For the past year and a half, Fischer, 60, has been chief operating officer at St. John's Hospital in Springfield, a 450-bed facility owned by the same nonprofit organization, Hospital Sisters Health System. She will continue that work but devote 80 percent of her time to St. Elizabeth's for now.
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HSHS hired a private firm to conduct a nationwide search to find a permanent replacement for Sebastian, said Jim Dover, president and CEO of the Belleville-based Southern Illinois Division. He expects it to take up to five months.
The transition won't have much of an effect on hospital operations because of the larger management team in place, Dover said. "It's all those leaders together that make the leadership."
Sebastian served as president and CEO at St. Elizabeth's for two years after holding the same position at St. Joseph's Hospital in Highland, another HSHS facility, for seven years. She left "to pursue new career opportunities," according to a media statement released on Tuesday.
Officials declined to provide further details, but described the departure as "amicable." Sebastian did not respond to a request for comment.
On Tuesday evening, Fischer attended a Business After Hours event, sponsored by O'Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce and hosted by St. Elizabeth's.
"She was a little bit of a surprise, but a happy surprise,' said Debbie Arell-Martinez, chamber director. "She was very nice and very receptive. I think we will all be able to work together very well."
The event attracted about 150 people. Some were unaware that Sebastian had resigned, but they lined up to meet Fischer.
Few dwelled on the administrative change, Arell-Martinez said. "Everyone was more wanting to talk about how nice of an addition St. Elizabeth's is to O'Fallon and what a beautiful facility it is."
An HSHS representative called Arell-Martinez and O'Fallon Mayor Herb Roach on Monday to tell them about Sebastian's departure and Fischer's arrival.
"I had not heard about it before, but you never know the inner workings of any organization," Roach said. "They were nice enough to give me advance notice that Peg was leaving and let me know about the new lady coming in, and I appreciated that."
Based in Springfield, HSHS operates 15 hospitals in Illinois and Wisconsin. It was founded by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis and still emphasizes high-quality, affordable and compassionate care.
Sebastian led St. Joseph's from 2009 to 2016, overseeing construction of its new hospital, which opened in 2013. Before that, she ran Sebastian Group LLC, a consulting firm specializing in health-care facility construction and operational planning.
Like mother, like daughter
Fischer followed in the footsteps of her mother, a nurse at St. Anthony's Health Center in Alton for 34 years. Her father was a welder.
Fischer graduated from St. Luke's School of Nursing in St. Louis and worked 10 years in Florida, mostly as a cardiac nurse. She earned a bachelor's degree in finance from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton before returning to the Midwest.
"I initially thought about going into anesthesia, but after three years of nursing school, I was ready to get to work," she said.
Fischer spent 23 years at St. Anthony's, moving into management and earning a master's in business administration from Washington University in St. Louis. She then served two years as president and CEO of the 25-bed St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield, another HSHS facility.
Fischer went to St. John's in 2016, reporting to its president and CEO. It was Dover who tapped her for the interim job at St. Elizabeth's.
Now that the hospital has completed its O'Fallon move, it is entering an "optimization" phase, he said. "And when it comes to optimization, Patti is the best optimizer in the entire (system)."
In the coming months, Fischer plans to stay in a hotel during the week and return to her home in Springfield on weekends. Her husband, Greg Elliott, is a retired chemist at Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals in St. Louis. They have a blended family with four children and three grandchildren.
Roach said he's glad to see St. Elizabeth's officials upbeat about everything from hospital occupancy rates to plans for the future.
The community has shown strong support in the past four months, Dover said. "There have been days when all the beds are full, and to me, that's the greatest indication."