DECATUR — HSHS St. Mary’s is searching for a new permanent chief executive officer after Joan Coffman left in July. In the meantime, the projects around the hospital are not slowing down.

The CEO search is projected to take between six and nine months to find the perfect candidate, said CEO and President of HSHS Central Illinois Division Hospitals and President and Interim Chief Executive Officer E.J. Kuiper. Because of this, Kuiper is now spending most of his time at HSHS St. Mary’s. He said he wants to be in Decatur to oversee the many ongoing projects at the hospital.

“It is a very important hospital to our system,” he said. “I felt it important to be here myself to help lead the organization.”

Kuiper also oversees HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield, HSHS Good Shepherd in Shelbyville and HSHS St. Francis in Litchfield.

The hospital has contracted with the firm Korn Ferry to lead the national search. A search committee made up of board members, community members, one of the sisters and physicians has been appointed. The St. Mary’s board will recommend a CEO candidate to the sisters in Springfield for final approval.

Kuiper said he hopes to find a CEO who will appreciate Decatur and desire to become an integral part of the community. He said there is no rush because they want to find the perfect person.

“We are comfortable taking our time,” Kuiper said. “It takes a special person to run St. Mary’s because St. Mary’s is a very special hospital.”

Kuiper started his career as a physical therapist. He transferred to Catholic health care because he is Catholic and wanted to practice with a faith organization, he said. He has been with the HSHS system for five years.

“Serving the under served, the people in great need, it is something that is really close to my heart,” he said. 

Kuiper said his background in physical therapy helps him understand the experience of the employees and the patients.

“I always want to fight for the underdog, people who don’t have insurance or can’t afford it, or who have to make heartbreaking decisions like am I going to feed my family tonight or am I going to buy medicine,” he said.

He encourages people to share ideas for improvements and hopes the hospital's 1,000 employees feel connected to the mission.

“You can have the greatest buildings and state of the art technology, but it still, at the end of the day, requires a nurse to take care of the patient, or a therapist, or housekeeping to keep the rooms clean,” he said.

The HSHS system is funding tens of millions of dollars in projects to improve and update the hospital, Kuiper said. There is a significant demand for more room for patients and doctors, Kuiper said.

The campus is growing because there are more patients to take care of, Kuiper said. The growth is “an affirmation that we are on the right track,” he said.

“We are blessed to be part of HSHS,” Kuiper said. “We are happy to be a system that has a very strong balance sheet, so we can make the investments.”

Behavioral health program

The opioid crisis is a big focus of the system. Part of being a hospital in a community like Decatur is responding to the needs of the community, Kuiper said.

“It is heartbreaking what is out there,” Kuiper said. “And we want to be a part of the solution.”

There are many patients suffering from mental health issues, Kuiper said. Because of this, the hospital is planning to invest in patient care. St. Mary’s offers two floors of behavioral health care for adolescent patients, adult patients and elderly patients.

This will be a multi-million dollar investment as well, Kuiper said, though the final details are still being worked out. One goal for the hospital is to work with Crossing Healtcare and Sheriff Howard Buffett as they open the opioid treatment center.

The partnership is still being finalized, Kuiper said, but the goal is to access any gaps in patient care to make sure the community has everything it needs to overcome the crisis, he said.

The hospital is also planning to upgrade and improve safety in behavioral health patient rooms by focusing on improving ligature risks so patients can’t hang themselves and improving and expanding security camera systems.

Women’s health

The hospital is making improvements in women’s health as well. Within the last year, the hospital partnered with Vita Center for Women to have a laborist available at all times to deliver babies.

“When you are pregnant, and it’s time to deliver a baby, you don’t want to wake up a doctor in the night,” he said. “Our volumes have gone up substantially since that was in place.”

A new women’s imaging center will open in early 2019. It will consolidate the tests that OB GYNs and other doctors order for women for things like mammograms and ultrasounds. The center is designed to allow patients to have their tests done in one place instead of traveling to multiple locations.

A new 3D mammography will be available in October. The hospital paid $1 million for the technology, Kuiper said.

The other purpose of the center is to allow radiology staff to view the tests and get them back to the patients more quickly so they don’t have to wait an extended period of time.

The overall goal is to improve the patient and employee experience, Kuiper said.

“We believe the real bottom line is the patients,” Kuiper said. “That is the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night is, ‘are we doing everything we can for the community?’”

Contact Claire Hettinger at (217) 421-6985. Follow her on Twitter: @ClaireHettinger