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There have been many changes at HSHS St. Mary’s Hospital over the past year, including my recent appointment to this ministry after serving as president and CEO of HSHS St. Joseph’s Hospital in Chippewa Falls, WI for almost a decade.

My journey at St. Mary’s began Sept. 5 and a Blessing Ceremony and Meet and Greet were both held shortly after my arrival. What wonderful events, which offered us the opportunity to open our doors and allow our mission and charism to spill out as we celebrated all the great things happening at our hospital.

I am grateful to have been welcomed as part of a community that is so committed, caring and authentic and I am thankful to all those who have welcomed me so graciously.   

St. Mary’s Hospital has always been extremely engaged with our community and that is a priority for me personally, as well.

Events such as Come Together Let’s Walk, Relay for Life, the Decatur Celebration, the prayer breakfasts and the Chamber’s Annual Thanksgiving Luncheon truly demonstrate the spirit of the people of Decatur.

In my first month here, I was able to participate in the WSOY annual food drive and was overwhelmed by the level of participation and collaboration among so many in support of a very worthy cause.

St. Mary’s has been voted the best to place to work for two years in a row in the Herald & Review’s Readers’ Choice poll. Decatur touts a labor workforce of over 46,000 individuals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; it is inspiring that a portion of our over 900-colleague team recognized us with this prestigious community award.

Additionally, St. Mary’s was recognized as Herald & Review’s Reader’s Choice Best Birthing Center and it is truly an honor and a privilege to serve families and provide them with the best possible birthing experience.

In early October, St. Mary’s was excited to partner with Eisenhower High School and Richland Community College to form a dual credit program focusing on horticulture.

This program extends the opportunity for Decatur students to receive dual credit in a vocational trade. It utilizes Mary’s Garden, a garden that has been on the hospital’s campus for the last few years and provided food for the Good Samaritan Inn.

Mary’s Garden recently became a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, which means colleagues are able buy into Mary’s Garden and receive weekly or bi-weekly baskets of fruits and vegetables grown in the garden.

St. Mary’s is committed to partnering with others in developing effective strategies to support food insecurity issues as well as to provide healthy food choices to area residents.

This fall, we also held a celebration to honor two outgoing Hospital Sisters and welcome one more to our ministry. Sisters Jocelyn Serwatka and Chaminade Kelley both retired to the Motherhouse in Springfield, and we were joined by Sister Marguerite Cook.

Our 139-plus year Franciscan ministry and legacy in Decatur is the result of the Sisters’ tireless acts of mercy in serving others. How blessed we are to carry forth that responsibility each and every day, every touch, every time!

In November, our hospital celebrated the National Donor Sabbath, an interfaith celebration of life and thanksgiving. It is a special time for people across America to learn about the critical shortage of organs and tissue and to celebrate the greatest blessing of all — life.

The service included music, a candle lighting service and a blessing. Donors, recipients and those waiting on the transplant list were all represented during the service. It is a humbling experience to witness the stories of those who are impacted by the generosity of donors in extending life to others.

Each year, St. Mary’s honors and memorializes loved ones of colleagues, volunteers and members of the community through sponsorship of Christmas lights on the star that sits atop the hospital. The star was donated by the late Dr. John “Rocky” White in 1988 and has lit up the night sky of our community each year since.

On Dec. 7, the HSHS St. Mary’s Foundation held the Star Lighting ceremony where the names of each person honored were read. Many in our community look for the star high atop St. Mary’s Hospital each Christmas season as we remember those who are near and dear to us.

Also in early December, Millikin University hosted the first Community Conversation on Opioids where I participated with a panel of healthcare and community leaders to discuss efforts to address the opioid epidemic. 

While a daunting challenge for our community, I am both proud and grateful these conversations will continue. This event kicked off the first of many monthly meetings that will bring the panel members and others in the community together to further define the key issues.

What a wonderful way to come together to discuss a challenging topic and collectively create ideas and action plans to support and advance the overall health and quality of life for area residents.

Looking to the future, St. Mary’s will continue to invest in our campus and community. The $9 million intensive care unit (ICU) renovation is underway, and the nearly $13 million medical office building to house HSHS Medical Group specialists will break ground in early spring.

We are very excited about these two new additions to our campus and we feel the ICU renovation was a needed one.

With the additions that we are making to the ICU experience at St. Mary’s, patients and their families will be able to better focus on the healing process. The new medical office building will be added to allow patients to visit each of their of HSHS Medical Group providers in one location and provide ease of access on our current medical campus.

What an eventful year this has been! In my short time at St. Mary’s, I have found that our colleagues’ ongoing commitment to our patients and community is truly palpable. Our goal is to provide quality and cost-effective healthcare, while maintaining the tradition and values of the Hospital Sisters who continue to have a presence in our hospital and the surrounding area.

The future is looking bright, and our Franciscan tradition continues as a result of such an engaged and caring team of clinicians, physicians, volunteers and support staff all working together toward a common cause of service to others. I look forward to working with the community as we collaborate to advance healthcare in a progressive and meaningful manner.

Joan Coffman is president and CEO of HSHS St. Mary's Hospital.

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