After a months-long national search, HSHS St. Elizabeth's Hospital in O'Fallon has found its new leader. As it turns out, she was already there.
Patti Fischer, who had been serving as the interim CEO and president, was announced Wednesday as the new president and CEO of the 144-bed facility that moved from Belleville to O'Fallon last fall.
"I'm very excited," Fischer said. "It is an honor and privilege to become the president and CEO at St. Elizabeth's in O'Fallon."
Fischer has been serving as interim CEO at St. Elizabeth's since Peg Sebastian resigned from the post in February. Sebastian joined HSHS in 2009 as CEO of St. Joseph's Hospital in Highland before taking the reins in January 2016 at St. Elizabeth's.
"Interestingly, I came down with the thought in mind that I would go back," Fischer said, referring to her other job in Springfield as chief operating officer at HSHS St. John's Hospital. "And as I was here longer and got to know the people, the management team and the colleagues, I just felt this warm and welcoming feeling about everybody in general," Fischer said. "I started thinking, 'Well, maybe this would be a good fit for me.'"
Founded by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, St. Elizabeth’s is part of the Springfield-based Hospital Sisters Health System, which has 15 hospitals in Illinois and Wisconsin, including St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Highland and Holy Family Hospital in Greenville.
Fischer, who has been a nurse for 30 years, had been serving a dual role at Hospital Sisters Health System for the last several months, taking on the interim responsibilities at St. Elizabeth's while continuing to serve as COO at St. John's, a 450-bed facility.
HSHS hired a private firm, Korn Ferry, to conduct a nationwide search to find a permanent replacement for Sebastian, said Jim Dover, president and CEO of the HSHS Southern Illinois Division. It was expected to take up to five months, but only three were needed.
"In the short time she has served as interim president and CEO, she has made a tremendous impact, and we know that will only continue," said Dover, who tapped Fischer for the interim job at St. Elizabeth's.
Fischer, 60, grew up in Alton and went to St. Luke's School of Nursing in St. Louis before starting her career as a nurse 35 years ago.
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 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.
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. Operating margins more than doubled, colleague engagement scores increased and physician satisfaction improved under her leadership at St. Francis and St. John's, according to an HSHS press release.
"Patti brings a wealth of experience to St. Elizabeth’s and proven leadership across HSHS," Dover said.
Fischer said St. Elizabeth's is a "beautiful facility, but more importantly, it has great people, and she is excited to continue to work with them.
"In addition to the colleagues, the physicians, I think, are top-notch. I've been really impressed, not only with the number of physicians, but the types of services we provide, especially cardiology, neurosurgery, orthopedics. And it really gives you the opportunity to deliver more care here locally," Fischer said.
In addition to the O'Fallon campus, Fischer will also be in charge of the hospital's remaining facilities in Belleville, which include physical therapy, Southern Illinois Health Care Foundation clinics, independent physician clinics, and a couple hundred employees working in offices, such as accounting and patient billing.
"We just opened back up our lab and radiology services over there. ... So it's still fairly active," Fischer said.
Fischer and her husband, Greg Elliott, a retired chemist at Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals in St. Louis, have a blended family with four children and three grandchildren. Fischer said the move from Springfield to O'Fallon will bring her "closer to family." Her uncle, Mike Toolen, owns Toolen's Running Start in O'Fallon, and she has also other relatives in and around the metro-east.
A public community meet-and-greet event is being planned 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, June 7.
A $34 million ambulatory care center is also adjacent to the hospital. The total cost of the 120-acre O’Fallon campus is valued at $300 million.
According to a recent report, St. Elizabeth’s employs 1,059 full-time health care professionals, resulting in 1, 391 additional jobs for the community, and generates a total annual impact of $452 million on the local and state economies.
"As a health and wellness destination, St. Elizabeth's is dedicated to offering quality services with the newest technologies utilized by the best and brightest healthcare professionals, (and) we also continue to develop plans for the future needs of the region to best serve the communities of southwestern Illinois and keep the health dollars and jobs here," Fischer said last month when she accepted the Overall Business Award during the O'Fallon-Shiloh Chamber of Commerce's 42nd annual Salute to Business Awards.
For more information about HSHS, visit www.hshs.org.