New directors of nursing at both St. John’s campuses bring a wealth of experience to roles

Published 11:33 am Wednesday, July 19, 2023

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By Abigail Chalmers

Both St. John’s Lutheran Community campuses in the last year welcomed a new director of nursing, and the two women happen to be longtime friends.

Laura Sternhagen of the Fountain Lake campus and Nichol Sevcik of Luther Place have known each other for years due to mutual time spent at the Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in Waseca. Now, they have another opportunity to collaborate in their new roles.

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Sternhagen has assumed the role at the Fountain Lake campus after serving as a nurse manager for three years. Sternhagen began working as a nurse in 1992 and now has over 30 years of experience in the field. After spending many years serving in hospitals and emergency room environments, including the Mayo Clinic at which she met Sevcik, she has transitioned over to senior living and took the director of nursing role in January of this year.

Sternhagen said she has learned a great deal since taking up the new role but that there is a significant amount of overlap between what she previously did as a nurse manager and what she does now. She said that the St. John’s staff works to cultivate a healthy team environment in which everyone can succeed, noting that the unity effort extends even to the other campus.

“We just do things together, and we all work together as a team,” she said. “We work together as a team with the other building, too. Our philosophy is we want everything the same in both buildings. Even though the structures might be different, we do the same care and we do it generally the same way.”

Keeping the residents’ care consistent and of the highest quality is the utmost important thing to Sternhagen. Her position revolves around ensuring that the residents’ needs are met, and she and her team accomplish this through routine meetings and discussions.

“The biggest thing here is making sure that our residents are well cared for,” she said. “That is the bottom line and why I’m here: to make sure that they have a good place to live and they’re getting all the care that they need.”

Though her to-do list changes from day to day, Sternhagen’s end goal is to keep residents’ care consistent and ensure that it is of the highest quality. She begins her mornings by verifying that the campus is properly staffed. If the home is shorthanded for the day, Sternhagen or other managerial employees will help out as needed.

Each floor of the home also has a weekly interdisciplinary meeting to discuss how the residents are doing and to promote thorough communication among team members. Sternhagen also monitors residents’ health needs, tracking and working to mitigate falls as well as communicating with the clinic for appointments and other necessities.

Like Sternhagen, Sevcik spent a great deal of time serving as a nurse and has 25 years of experience in the field to guide her in her new role. She worked in hospital and emergency room settings as well as in the role of director of senior living at a different nursing home facility. After working from home for a year during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sevcik was persuaded by Sternhagen to apply for the director of nursing position in the fall of 2022.

“She asked me in April, then she asked me in May, then she asked me in June,” Sevcik said. “Then in August she asked me again, and I said, ‘OK, I’ll apply.’”

Sevcik stepped into the role in November 2022 and hasn’t looked back, saying that she prefers this kind of nursing care.

“I really do love geriatrics,” she said.

Her daily schedule is similar to Sternhagen in keeping with the philosophy of consistent care between the two facilities. In the morning, she reviews resident documentation and nursing notes. Several meetings are scattered throughout her day, including admission huddles during which the staff is informed on new residents and the census. In between such meetings and other administrative work, Sevcik is active on the floor and ensures that everything is running smoothly.

“We’re very hands-on, Laura and I,” she said. “They know who the DONs are in our buildings.”

Both Sternhagen and Sevcik love connecting with residents and making their time in the community as enjoyable as possible. Sternhagen said that she loves watching the residents engaging in activities like bingo, gardening and the other events hosted by the activities committee.

“Just to watch them have fun is really good,” she said.

Sevcik added that she takes pride in the way that she leads her staff and how that is reflected in the way the residents are served.

“The ultimate goal is not really about me,” she said. “It’s about empowering everybody on the floor to give the best care.”