In July 2008, when she was a registration representative on midnights in the Morris Hospital Emergency department, Erin Kotowski of Channahon was honored as the hospital’s Fire Starter of the Month for being a dynamic, strong leader with great compassion and integrity. Now, four and a half years later, Kotowski has again earned Fire Starter honors, this time for her role as Quality Specialist in the Performance Improvement department.
“Erin is compassionate and responsive to the needs of our customers,” says Linda Rice, director of quality and compliance at Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers. “She volunteers and provides unselfish acts of kindness without being asked and always remains humble. She can often be heard saying she’s only doing what’s right.”
Kotowski was drawn to health care after completing the emergency medical technician class as a high school student. She started in the registration department at Morris Hospital in 1998 as a college student and spent the next 10 years there before transferring to Performance Improvement in the fall of 2008. She made the switch to PI because she was interested in clinical data extraction. However, it wasn’t long before Kotowski earned a reputation throughout the organization for being a lead patient relations advocate.
“I think my dad’s gift of human communication passed on to me,” says Kotowski, referring to her father William Kelly, former Grundy County coroner. “I can almost always instantly connect with people and develop a relationship with them. Each one of us is equal, and everyone deserves the absolute best care and service.”
While Kotowski admits there is nothing fun about handling a customer complaint, her personal satisfaction comes in converting an unhappy customer into a loyal Morris Hospital patient. And in Kotowski’s opinion, it’s almost always possible to achieve.
“Smoothing things over with the customer is the easy part. It’s getting to the root of the problem on the back end that’s complex and time consuming,” she said. “Yet it’s important because we want to use the opportunity to evaluate our services and identify steps for improvement.”
In addition to her patient advocacy role, Kotowski is intimately involved in assuring excellent quality of care for patients. She studies pathology reports to make sure tissue removal was necessary, and she analyzes return visits to the Emergency Department to see if something might have been missed in the initial diagnosis. She also reviews blood utilization reports to assure appropriate use of blood products.
All of these findings are reported to the Quality Committee and appropriate Medical Staff committees. She also works directly with regulatory agencies, such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, and the Health Facilities Accreditation Program.
“Most people don’t realize all the work that’s done on charts after patients are discharged from the hospital,” explains Kotowski. “Work is done on the back end to assure good outcomes for our patients.”
Yet at the end of the day, Erin says winning back an unhappy customer is truly what makes her job most rewarding.
“I’m really lucky and blessed to be able to do what I love and comes naturally to me,” she says.
In early civilizations, fire starters were the individuals who had the important job of keeping the flame alive. As Fire Starter of the Month, Kotowski received a Grundy County Chamber of Commerce gift certificate, a special “Fire Starter” lapel pin, and a designated parking spot for the month. Morris Hospital & Healthcare Centers is the largest employer in Grundy County with over 960 employees.