By Elio Montenegro
The sun broke through a string of rainy days and a world changing pandemic on Chicago’s Far South Side as The New Roseland Hospital’s Leadership Team gathered for a meeting that turned into a birthday party featuring tears of joy and church worthy testimonials.
This 134-bed Safety Net Hospital is on the brink of financial insolvency day-to-day. Add in the struggle of enduring the dark chaos of COVID-19 and the challenges have intensified.
Yet on the faces and in the words of the dedicated employees, some who have served for decades, there is pride knowing their underfunded hospital has tested over 12,000 community members and first responders for COVID-19 using both serological and nasal swab technologies. Nurses applaud Dr. Terrill Applewhite, Chair of the New RCH COVID Task Force, and warmly welcomes their new Chief Nursing Officer Gilberte Jean who started just two weeks prior to the emotional gathering in the hospital’s closed cafeteria.
Everyone in the room sang Happy Birthday to Director of Human Resources Nikia Glenn, who could not hold back the waterworks and said, “I love you all.”
Then Registered Nurse Robin Young, who has served patients in the economically challenged Greater Roseland Community for 26-years, stood up and raised her hand in preparation to give her own heartfelt testimony. Young went around the room and praised her fellow caregivers for treating a vulnerable population that is 7% of Chicago yet 16% of the COVID-19 deaths. She singled out nurses and doctors who were responsible for reporting thousands of test results. She heaped thanks on cardio-pulmonary techs who treated COVID-19 patients in the hospital always-full 10-bed Intensive Care Unit. Then she turned her watery eyes and ear-to-ear smile toward New RCH President and CEO Tim Egan (pictured).
“You know how they say ‘You have a dog in the fight’,” Young said. “Well, Mr. Egan is our dog. And boy can he fight.”
Young is referencing what a Crain’s Chicago Business headline screamed on March 6, 2020; “Funding Fight Splits Hospitals.” Egan was clear in his stance that the State of Illinois’ distribution of Medicaid funding was using flawed formulas and corrupt data and accused state officials of “counting claims instead of concentrating on lives.”
The “fight” was shaping up to be something the Illinois Capital of Springfield would have featured in its historic rotunda like a marquee boxing match had COVID-19 not disrupted every schedule across the country. Instead, Egan had to pivot his focus like a turret from the struggle for funding to the all-out war against COVID-19.
“By absolute necessity and without real support we became the tip of the sword in the battle to flatten the COVID-19 curve,” Egan said. “There was no testing available on the Far South Side of Chicago. Our ED was being overrun. Our community was living in fear, so we pitted science and fact against that fear and we’ve been staring down COVID-19 ever since.”
In early 2019, Egan was the architect of bringing American Medical Labs into his hospital to modernize testing and bring in new equipment. It was a fortuitous maneuver that has literally saved lives. When COVID-19 hit the streets of its community, the New Roseland Hospital was more than ready with its own analyzer and testing capability.
New Roseland Hospital Medical Staff President Dr. Joy West praised Egan for “leading the charge” against COVID-19.
“The doctors at the New Roseland Hospital are immensely grateful for Mr. Egan’s dedication and perseverance,” Dr. West said. “He refused to turn away from our community and looked the deadly Coronavirus straight in the eye. We have undoubtedly saved many lives under his leadership.”
Egan’s heroics go beyond just saving lives. He is tirelessly advocating for his employees. That closed cafeteria was due to COVID-19 exposure and limiting risk so he has worked around the clock to provide meals for patients and employees. He has also secured enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to keep his employees safe.
The extraordinary efforts of the New Roseland Hospital and its leader have garnered international news coverage and a resolution honoring both submitted by Illinois Representative Kam Bucker.
Rep. Buckner submitted; “Under the leadership of President and CEO Tim Egan and using only resources obtained by him, the New Roseland Community hospital… mounted a defense against the vicious attacks of COVID-19.
“Rather than accept the lack of response for minority communities Tim Egan sought and procured cutting-edge serological tests for COVID-19 exposure as well as polymerase chain reaction (PRC) screenings for COVID-19 in order to flatten the curve for South Side communities.”
Egan is adamant that the credit of the New Roseland Hospital’s efforts and success are equally shared.
“We are a hospital that has been divested in for decades,” Egan said. “Our strength and power is our mission of serving every person that walks in our door that is suffering. We are open 24/7 and every minute of every day we have a wonderfully dedicated staff. Compassion is wall to wall from doctors to nurses, from OB to the Engineer’s Room. Our staff is the backbone of an institution that will not break.”
That backbone is bolstered by Egan, a proud Irish-American and single father of four sons. Hs is a true Chicagoan. He’s also big; 6’4” and 250 pounds. He played college basketball, toured the world playing rugby and has even entered the boxing ring. But looking at his hands is what makes him a Chicagoan. They are mangled in what neighborhood folks easily recognize as being broken and jammed by a “Clincher” – the 16-inch softball indigenous to Chicago. His nose is something his mother called “nice and straight” before it was broken a half dozen time.
When Young called Egan a “dog in the fight,” another employee yelled; “Bulldog.” Egan smiled under an N-95 mask.
“I’m not in a popularity contest,” Egan said. “My mission in life is to help people, even one patient at a time. If people don’t know the difference and that I’m just fighting for those patients that’s their mistake. I’m not fighting anyone; I’m fighting for someone. Someone who is sick or hurt. And the fight’s far from over.”
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By Elio Montenegro