Spotlight: Katie Wagner, Finance Operations Manager

We all know that person. She’s the one you ask when you want to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – nothing buttered up; no flowers or rainbows. Just tell it like it is. It’s a rare talent, and Katie Wagner, Finance Operations Manager, has it in spades.

She’s not afraid to give her honest opinion, loudly and with feeling. But she’s also got a soft side, and she lets that side come out while she’s around her two kiddos at home. Don’t expect too much of the soft side to show up at work – Billing and Finance don’t allow a lot of touchy-feely stuff. But if you get her talking about Client care, you’ll know that soft part is still all melty and gooey in there, driving Katie to find the best possible coverage for each Client. Get ready for some extra special “insider info,” because Katie Wagner, the HealthStar Spotlight’s on you!

Big sister, Little sister

Katie has younger siblings as well as older siblings, which makes her the perfect combination of “little sister, big sister.” She grew up with 7 people in the house – both parents, plus four siblings. Talk about sharing! As the “big sister,” Katie knows how to take charge, but she also knows how to take a “little sister beating” in the form of being picked on by the other office “family.” Not that we would ever pick on employees, right Tim Lively?

Katie also has plenty of health care experience, which helps her to put herself in your shoes, whether you’re a caregiver, Client, or family member. She started out in PCA service and Assisted Living, and then worked her way up through the ranks to Office Manager at another home care agency before coming to HealthStar in 2013.

For me, home is where you can be yourself… there are no judgments, you can make up your own rules, you can have things the way you want them, and it’s not dictated by someone else… That’s the best part about home care; it gives people the option to be themselves, comfortably.

Katie Wagner

Katie can be the strong source of advice, and she can also sometimes be the one who needs a little TLC. For example, when we’re not sure of a Client’s coverage, Katie is always the first person in line to help figure things out. But when we have big hairy scary issues with a certain software which we won’t mention by name, Katie might need a little help peeling herself off the ceiling. No matter whether she’s in little sister or big sister mode, Katie is a fun part of the HealthStar family!

Competition, much?

If you really want Katie to shine, just tell her that it can’t be done, or that she’ll never find the answer. It’s not always obvious, but Katie is a fierce competitor. Katie wants her work to be the best – a great example of a job well done. She’s not just here to work, she’s here to shine, and she expects the same from her team.

Tell Katie that no one can get through to that insurance payor, and she’ll have a rep on the line before you can turn around. Tell her that we can’t figure something out, and she’ll call together a committee to get you an answer lickety-split. Give her an hour to get the job done, and she’ll have it back to you, finished, in 15-minutes. Apparently, she even has a long-running badmitton game with her brother, who lives in Arizona. They just start up again with the previous score every time they’re together. (and, yes, Katie is winning.) The only thing that Katie doesn’t compete on is food – she’s kind of a plain-Jane. But if there was a competition on who could eat the most Cheese Pizza, Katie would… at least show up.

Tenacity? YEAH, she has it!

The best part of the deal is that HealthStar’s Clients get the benefit of Katie’s drive to be great. She fights tooth and nail to get every allowed service covered. She is an insurance knight, fighting for those who don’t have so many years of billing experience to fight for themselves. Boy, does it feel good to have an advocate like this on your side when you are looking for service coverage! And for HealthStar, to have someone who knows the ins and outs is amazing, especially when researching and launching a new service line like we just did with ICLS!

As someone who has also “fought the good fight” in insurance billing, I can say from experience, it is very difficult to navigate benefits coverage if you’re not sure what you’re looking for. And with more than 16-years of home care experience, Katie knows what she’s looking for! There are some things that you can only learn from dealing with insurance coverage day in and day out. It’s amazing that Katie’s skill set and years of experience are available to our HealthStar Client base!

Laughter is the best… everything!

My personal favorite thing about Katie is her sense of humor. I had to choose this, because she is such a plain eater. I’m a very food-motivated person, so it is hard for me to write about someone who doesn’t really love the same variety of foods that I do. But that’s a me problem, and this is supposed to be about Katie… so, sense of humor it is!

Katie loves to laugh, and I love it when she laughs loud. She has a great “throw your head back” laugh. And she loves sarcasm, which is fabulous because many of us at Corporate are extremely sarcastic. But the absolute best thing about Katie is that Tim Lively can pick on her in just about any situation. She makes it so easy to tease her, it’s almost as easy as picking on Susan Mocchi for being small (and let me tell you, from experience, that is very easy to do. Like, any time someone brings a child’s hand-me-down clothes around, you say “Hey, that would fit Susan.” Or when you need someone to help put on your fine jewelry, it’s like, “Susan, can you do this with your tiny hands?” So, yeah, pretty easy.)

Wait, a fun meeting?

My favorite meetings are the ones where Katie, Tim, Susan and I are all involved. It’s really more of a roast than a meeting; Tim and I just take turns tossing one-liners around, and Katie and Susan look at each other like, “when can we file a complaint?” But they also both know how much we love them, so everybody comes out feeling great in the end. Or, at least, we haven’t gotten the complaint paperwork yet.

How can someone who has such a serious Billing and Finance job also have such a great sense of humor? I think it might be genetic. Katie has an awesome picture of her dad on her desk, and he has the BIGGEST smile I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure that his attitude and legacy have a lot to do with Katie’s own big smile. So, if you’re ever in North St. Paul, stop in and ask for a meeting with Katie, Tim, Beth and Susan. Bring some popcorn and put your feet up for a while – you won’t be disappointed.

If Katie helps everyone, then who helps Katie?

OK, so this spotlight also has an extra bonus item. Katie is a great biller in her own right, but she has a really awesome team. I couldn’t do this spotlight without mentioning the rest of the Billing/Finance staff. Greg Klinger and Leela Vang are the quiet strength to Katie’s thunder. They are both amazingly hard workers who want to get things done right. I sometimes realize that I’ve gone all day without talking to Leela or Greg, and I feel a little guilty and sad… But it’s not because I don’t love them – it’s because they are so focused on their tasks, and they very rarely need outside help to complete their responsibilities. After all, as much as it might feel like family, we are all here for work. Good thing you were sitting down for that, right?

Besides Billing staff, though, Katie also supervises payroll SuperWoman Jane Bauer, aka Sneezy MacSneezerson. Yes, that’s right, between Jane’s high number of rapid-fire “is she sniffing out of the pepper jar in there” sneezes, and Greg’s booming, large-breed dog-barking impersonation sneezes, the rest of us are mice among men in the sneeze department. So, not only does Katie have the most Corporate Office staff in her department, she also has the most Corporate Office sneezes reporting to her, by a large margin.

Work hard, play hard (then work hard some more)

The best thing is, Leela, Jane, and Greg also each have their own great sense of humor. So basically, the whole Billing/Finance/Payroll team is a barrel of sneezes and laughs. (ok, it’s not as gross as it sounds.) But at the end of the day, the most important thing about Billing is perseverance, and you know by now that Katie has this in spades. She doesn’t give up, which is a win for HealthStar and our Clients.

Got questions about insurance coverage for yourself or a loved one? Give us a call and see what Katie and our Billing/Finance team can do for you. Just don’t forget your sense of humor; you’re going to need it.

Love and Charity – 24ECCs in action! HS + Safe Haven = ❤

During the month of May, HealthStar is focusing on the 24ECC’s of Love and Charity. Each office is partnering with a community agency to help support a good cause. Corporate and the Twin Cities Skilled office, for example, are working with an agency called Safe Haven Foster Shoppe. Safe Haven holds a unique mission of providing basic items to newly placed foster kids.

Safe Haven Mission: We want no child to enter foster care empty-handed.

Kids placed with foster families often have no belongings, other than the clothes they are wearing on placement. Safe Haven puts together bags of essentials (like toothpaste, toothbrushes, socks, or pajamas), with a goal of providing newly placed foster kids with a special bag within 24-hours of placement. HealthStar Home Health Corporate and Twin Cities Skilled hope to provide 4 completed bags to Safe Haven; two for girls and two for boys.

Found your heartstrings?

Hearing Safe Haven’s mission gave me chills. Kids in foster care need a little extra love, and what an amazing difference when there’s something special waiting at their new home. It’s a small thing, but to a kid going through this transition, this bag of items is something stable, personal, and all his/her own. If you’re in the twin cities metro area, please consider supporting Safe Haven with a donation. Drop items off at HealthStar’s Corporate and Twin Cities Skilled office during our drive, or contact and support Safe Haven directly at any time. Your support goes to a great cause!

Here’s a list of what goes into the various bags that Safe Haven creates. Providing these basic essential items on placement is a great way to support foster families and foster kids both at the same time! When you choose to donate financially or donate items, you can play an important part in Safe Haven’s mission and vision.

HealthStar has a big heart!

Thanks to Tim Lively, HealthStar owner, for generously supporting this effort. We are lucky to work at a company that supports staff in setting up a drive like this. And it’s also great that HealthStar financially participates in the donations set up by each office!

This is just one activity for these two combined offices, but all of HealthStar gets to join in on every 24ECC project! That’s ten more offices for Love and Charity. Don’t forget to check back and see all of the great Love and Charity activities from our other offices! I can’t wait to hear about them all, myself!

Want to know more about working at a supportive and caring company? Check out open positions, and learn more about HealthStar’s mission and vision!

Spotlight: Julie Swedberg, Cass Lake

It’s easy to mistake HealthStar as just a Metro-Area agency, with Corporate, Twin Cities Skilled, and Inver Grove Heights all being around the metro. But we have more offices outside the metropolis than in it! Looking north, you’ll find some of HealthStar’s craftiest and thriftiest “family members” in the Cass and Bemidji offices. Julie Swedberg, Branch Manager (aka Thrift Master) brings many talents to HealthStar’s Cass Lake office. She’s dedicated to serving HealthStar’s unique Client base and spends her time spreading warm, fuzzy feelings all through the land of Cass!

Inspired by her sister’s experiences as a CNA, Julie got her CNA certification and worked in a nursing home early in her health care career, and later became an LPN. Julie says that to feel the love and trust that patients have towards her as a nurse has been priceless. Her studies continued with a 2-year business degree, and in 2015 she found herself with multiple job offers (of course!). Lucky for us, HealthStar won the dangerous duel for Julie’s heart, and she joined our team as Branch Manager.

A Running Start

Oh boy, did Julie hit the ground running! Julie started during a period of great stress and transition for HealthStar. The Cass Lake office was going through some changes, to put it mildly. Things have settled down since then, thanks to Julie’s “special touch.” She knows how to take things in stride, and she doesn’t get too riled up during difficult times. Julie says that her love of gardening helps her stay calm – she loves to take photos of her flower gardens and often spends time thinking through her current challenges and stresses while walking through the flowers.

Keeping herself grounded and stress-free sure comes in handy when our HealthStar family gets together. Julie’s calm and matter-of-fact ways help keep us all on track and on time! But don’t let her “down to business” routine fool you – Julie has a great sense of humor and loves to stir up some fun. Her laugh comes up from her toes! And if you want to see her soft side, just ask about her sons. We’ve all met the little one, Ryker – he’s a Corporate Meeting Regular! Without further ado – please allow me to share with you my three favorite things about Julie. Julie Swedberg, the HealthStar spotlight’s on you!

An “old school” master chef

Julie’s mastery in the kitchen is appreciated by many mouths and stomachs across the land. In between office hours, community events, sports with the kids, and family time, Julie somehow finds time to preserve her own jellies and jams. She does this in large enough quantity that she sells them at the community farmers’ market! I can say as a personal recipient of Julie’s “jam variety pack” that this stuff is DELICIOUS! I would eat it with a fox, in a box, on a train, in the rain, and anywhere else for that matter. Yum!

Canning isn’t her only kitchen specialty, though – Julie can bake, sauté, steam, sear, and roast, too. She’s like a human instant pot, so many functions that you just can’t get enough! She’s not afraid of a little chopping – it lets her exercise her aggressive side. Yeah, she can get tough when she needs to, but most of the time she doesn’t. She gets pretty far with honey.

Julie’s love of cooking has a family history; her mom is also an awesome cook. Sometimes, they team up for community events – I know Julie’s mom makes a killer fry-bread taco! Why, oh why couldn’t Julie have grown up in the Metro so that I can have a fry-bread taco? It’s so true that life just isn’t fair.

Oh, so thrifty!

Julie pretends to come down to Corporate for meetings, but we’re pretty sure she actually comes down for the thrift store shopping. She makes a great round of the local thrift stores when she’s in town. Sometimes, she goes with Chasidy Myhrer, Bemidji Operations Manager (aka “hammer of the north”). They are a sight to behold, with so much treasure for so little cost! Great taste, great value – if Julie had a personal motto, that might just be it. I’m so jealous of her saving ways. I’ve never seen a dollar stretched so thin.

This special thrifting ability doesn’t just apply to shopping for Julie’s family, though. She also puts her special thrifty talents to work for her office, squeezing every penny out of her dollars. She considers her office budget with every decision she makes, going so far as to do her own cooking for events – lucky for the guests!

We didn’t know it when we hired Julie, but she’s a package deal, and we are so lucky for it! She gets her family involved in planning and hosting duties, which helps keep down the cost of extra help. Aside from helping out with community events on several occasions, Julie’s mom has also become our official “Corporate Meetings Mom,” always stopping in to say hello with Ryker when they’re in town. We’ve decided to make Ryker our official Corporate Meeting Mascot. It’s always nice for our HealthStar family to see the Swedberg family!

Heart full of love!

No one asks Julie to come to community events. They just put her on the schedule and tell her she’s coming! She’s made a name for herself in the community, and she and HealthStar are so proud of this! We’ve seen (and posted) photos of her spectacular booth setup at events; she really makes it look homey and comfortable. Julie doesn’t need much of an arm twist to help in the community – she gets involved because she loves it! She makes community events a priority for herself and her family because she wants to see the Cass Lake community thrive. Her energy and enthusiasm help get others going at events, which is why she is always invited back! The warmth and kindness that Julie brings with her to work is the same warmth and kindness that she pours into every event she attends.

Julie doesn’t save all of her love for community events, though. She also likes to know all about the people she works with, so that she can show us some love, too! At the recent Corporate meetings, Julie was spotted taking notes about everything, from Corporate updates down to each person’s personality type and conflict resolution style. “You never know when this kind of thing might come in handy,” she says.

Julie’s love for her community also translates to love for her Clients and staff. Julie is friendly and caring, and she expects her team to follow her example (which they do very well!). Call the Cass Lake office, and you’ll probably talk to Michelle Colliflower or Jean Bartell, two of the nicest and funniest ladies in Cass Lake! Karen rounds out the group with plenty of experience, wisdom, and patience. Julie puts a lot of love into this team, and it shows! This great group offers PCA, HMK, and skilled services in the Cass Lake area, and they are determined to show the love of their office to all of their Clients and field staff!

Julie, all wrapped up

Julie is like a pioneer woman, mixed with a kindergarten teacher, mixed with a ferocious lion – she has amazing kitchen skills, she loves to show her kind side, but when she needs to, she bares those teeth and gets things done! She represents HealthStar just the way we like it – leading with kindness and support, delicious with a touch of spice and a whole lot of love. Visit the HealthStar booth at the next Cass Lake health fair and find out what you’ve been missing!

And Julie – thanks for the jam, I’ve finished most of it and I’ll be patiently waiting for another shipment. 😊

24ECC program: Building the HealthStar Family

HealthStar’s 24ECC program is different than other Corporate “touchy-feely” programs.

Many companies search for ways to increase cultural competency and employee engagement, but very few truly succeed. With the 24ECC program, HealthStar has nailed it.

Developing the 24ECC program

In 2009, HealthStar invited clients and community members to participate in focus groups tasked with identifying the qualities of good caregivers. These result: a long list of ideal characteristics for caregivers, providing great insight into HealthStar’s culturally diverse client base.

HealthStar then narrowed the focus group’s list to twenty-four crucial elements. The new 24 Expressions of Company Culture, or ECCs, fit nicely within the categories of HealthStar’s top four core values: Servant Leadership, Empathy, Altruism, and Integrity. Almost 10-years later, and the 24ECC program still lives on!

24ECCs in action

Each month, 24ECC trainers identify one of the 24ECC values to highlight. They design activities that help staff to discuss and dig deeper into the importance and impact of the chosen value. Through these activities and discussions, we gain a better understanding of the ideals that our Clients identified. We also examine the cultural differences in how values are expressed or perceived. The same values are often interpreted very differently depending on cultural background!

What the 24ECCs do for our team

One of the unexpected benefits of the 24ECCs is that they provide a tool to better understand and communicate with team members. The 24ECC program is a constant reminder that even though someone may do things differently, that doesn’t make it wrong! We learn balance – if you do too much of one value, you might end up not representing other values which are equally important. In conflict, the 24ECCs guide us to consider each other’s point of view without judging or jumping to conclusions. We use the 24ECCs as consistent language to express ourselves, and to discuss and work through concerns.

But for me, the best part is getting together once a month to get to know each other through a new 24ECC activity. I love the creative ideas that our 24ECC planners come up with! 24ECC Bingo, collage making, skits, and gift baskets – and sometimes a 24ECC snack. When we build a team that communicates and has fun together, we also develop something more than just a place where people go to complete tasks.

What 24ECC “Work Love” can do for you

HealthStar is more than a group of people who work together. We are a team that supports each other and truly cares about each other.  We are a work family, spread across three states. HealthStar people get excited to see each other at quarterly meetings – it’s like family coming to visit, including the cooking, the hugging, and the chatting.

Best of all, when HealthStar needs to get a project done, we all jump in and do what we can. We appreciate and capitalize on the things that make us different, because we know that’s part of building a great team! By fostering this Work Love relationship in our offices, we automatically extend the same level of care to our Clients. It’s not always easy, but with the 24ECCs, we have the foundation to build on. It is a great base to support great care!

Check out our website for more information about this program and how it helps us provide the best possible care!