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Jackie Yacko, left, a nurse in the OSF Center for Health-Streator emergency center, and director of emergency services Megan Brennan, work in the busy emergency center on Feb. 3.

STREATOR — As a health care professional, Megan Brennan knew that opening an emergency center in the new OSF Center for Health-Streator — rural Illinois' first emergency center not attached to a hospital — would be "fun, exciting and innovative."

But as a small-town native, she understood the emotional reaction when Springfield-based Hospital Sisters Health System closed St. Mary's Hospital before Peoria-based OSF HealthCare took over and converted the building to an outpatient center called Center for Health.

"This was their health care," Brennan said recently in the emergency center. "The community was grieving the loss of the hospital. The staff was grieving the loss of some colleagues. Comments were being made in the community that 'People will die.' It was hard."

Using her experiences as a nurse, a small-town native, a wife and mother of three children, Brennan — with her colleagues — opened an urgent care center in January 2016 and then, following state approvals, an emergency center in August. She did it while retaining responsibilities for emergency services at OSF St. Elizabeth Medical Center about 20 minutes away in Ottawa. She is director of emergency services at St. Elizabeth and Center for Health.

"She navigated through two transitions (to an urgent care center and an emergency center) and has been instrumental in their success," said Don Damron, vice president of ambulatory services for Center for Health and St. Elizabeth.

Damron said Brennan's clinical competence, technical knowledge — especially meeting regulations to become a free-standing emergency center — and decisiveness made the transitions work.

Brennan, 39, is a Polo native who graduated from Illinois State University in Normal with a bachelor's degree in health administration and education. She went to work for a company that recruits nurses for hospitals, assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

After receiving a bachelor's degree in nursing from Lewis University, she went to work in a surgical transplant unit at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

"It was a very intense job but I learned a ton," she said. "I became a charge nurse within six months."

"That helped me to establish my management style," she said. "I try to support the staff — remove barriers — so they can take care of patients."

In 2007, she became an emergency department nurse at Central DuPage Hospital and worked her way up to charge nurse.

She became emergency department manager at St. Elizabeth in May 2015, later director of emergency services and then added responsibilities at Center for Health.

"It was very hard coming into a department where people had lost their jobs," she said. Remaining St. Mary's emergency department staff were hired by OSF.

Staff that remained learned OSF's medical record, policies and procedures, and had to pass Joint Commission and Illinois Department of Public Health inspections.

"My goal was to make sure we became an emergency center," Brennan said. "I don't think I did it all perfectly. I was focused on the regulations. Maybe I didn't nurture feelings as much as I could. But I did explain why we're doing things."

Along the way, nurses' hours have been adjusted to support higher patient volumes later in the day and equipment setup has been standardized at both locations to make it easier for nurses to provide patient care.

"Things are good. I have two departments that are merging together to be one. I have great staff in both places. I couldn't have done it without them."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Reporter

Health reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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