Spotlight: Jessica Downs, Clinical Operations

HealthStar’s Corporate team is a very diverse mix of all walks of life. Today, we are nurses (like Jessica), medical billers, and office support staff. But many winding paths have converged to bring this team together. With history in auto maintenance, real estate, finance, marketing, teaching, and even some folks who moved to the continental US from abroad, we really keep things interesting!

We are all problem solvers in one way or another, but the thing that really brings us together is our love of caring for others. We may not be direct, hands-on care staff, but we show our helping hands in other ways. There are lots of treats and shared meals, plenty of “feelings Friday” discussions where we show our support for each other, and lots of inside jokes. There are no cliques – we all get along. No, seriously! It’s not always easy, but because we truly care about each other, we give each other grace and try to understand where others are in their own unique battles.

As awesome as Corporate is, if you really want to see what makes HealthStar shine, what sets us apart, and what we are all working for every day – you’ll need to look outside our colorful and multi-angled Corporate walls. Look out into “the field,” where the rubber meets the road. Can you see our clinicians, our practitioners, and our front-line caregiving staff? Maybe you also see our service office locations and some of our Clients – they’re the reason Corporate exists! We work to serve, and we work hard to make sure that we serve well!

Who else do you see?

While you’re looking out there, do you see a blonde? Not just any blonde, but a blonde who really OWNS IT? Maybe you see her climbing out of a big pickup truck with her hair flowing in the wind. Her broad, radiant, feel-good smile touches everyone she walks past. That blonde hair is a statement, and the shoes and smile are the exclamation point. Her red shoes reflect her true passion – love for all people, and a strong desire to take care of those who need it. Watch out, now – she’s a hugger, but her hug melts your worries away and leaves you feeling lighter. Just who is this happy, high-heeled hugger, you ask? I’m proud to say, this bright and bubbly blonde is Jessica “Jess” Downs, HealthStar’s Director of Clinical Operations.

Talk about winding roads to HealthStar Corporate – prior to her decision to become an RN, Jessica had worked as a CNA in HealthStar’s Duluth office. Jess even once considered becoming an attorney! We’re sure glad she didn’t go that route. Instead, while working as a CNA in a nursing home, Jess was encouraged by a mentor to pursue a career in nursing and decided to give it a try.

What a great fit for her caring personality! After getting her degree, Jessica’s career in nursing kicked off in her home town of Duluth, MN, working in a surgical center and hospital. She later worked in Wisconsin, Nevada, California, and Arizona, in a variety of clinical roles including corrections nurse, hospice case manager, and Director of Nursing. Then, in 2014, Jessica’s winding road led her full-circle right back to HealthStar. Some things are just meant to be! Because we are in the “month of love,” we thought it would be a great time to tell you a little more about Jessica and her big-hearted ways. Jessica Downs, the HealthStar spotlight is on you!

Happiness is contagious

One of the first things that I noticed about Jessica is that she always seems So Happy. It’s an overwhelming happiness, like I imagine it would be if everyone’s Facebook self was real. She projects positivity and happiness into the world in front of her, like a blinding pink tractor beam, daring sadness to cross its path. If ethereal auras were visible, Jessica’s would be pink and fuzzy, and it would probably sparkle in the sunlight.

Cass Lake 2018 Holiday Party.
Left to Right: Barb J, Michelle C, Julie S, Jessica D, Jean B.

Her happiness is wonderful in meetings, which are otherwise often dull and boring. Jess has a great laugh, bursting straight out of her heart; it is the glorious sound of freedom, a bird’s song of warm sunshine and wind ruffling his feathers as he soars through the open sky. Try to be stressed and frustrated in front of Jessica, I dare you. When you start to explain your problems, they suddenly won’t seem so bad any more. She’ll tell you “it’s OK, we’ll get through it.” And, poof – she’s right. It’s that simple. We will get through it.

Shine on, Jessica!

It’s easy to understand Jessica’s success in hospice, and as a nurse in general. A ray of sunshine in a cloudy and often difficult time, she’s exactly the type of personality to lift everyone’s spirits. Picture her sweet-talking her patients and showing them there’s nothing else that matters in the world. To Jessica, that’s the truth! She loves our HealthStar clients and pours her heart and soul into making sure that our team has the tools to deliver the best possible care!

While similar care is provided in both hospice and home care, there is a much more personal aspect to home care, because of the need for service to be provided in the Client’s living space. Jess has a great understanding of what this means to Clients. She expresses gratitude and compassion toward HealthStar’s Clients and says that she is honored to be invited into their homes. Her humility and friendliness help set Clients at ease.

Flexibility, much?

Some things are critical to a successful career at HealthStar. A sense of humor, I say. A love of food? Probably. The gift of patience? Can’t hurt. How about the ability to roll with the punches, to re-prioritize when a target shifts, or to “be the willow,” as our long-time employee Cathy Rivas-Carballo says. In my opinion, this is critical. HealthStar staff have an informal motto: “Give it a minute, things will change!”

Cass Lake 2018 Holiday Party.
Left to Right: Michelle C, Karen M, Jean B, Jessica D, Julie S.

Why is flexibility important? Take Jessica’s HealthStar history as an example. In her RN role, she started at HealthStar shortly after our transition from PCA/HMK agency to Medicare-certified agency. In the time Jess has been with us, the layout, structure, and focus of HealthStar’s branch offices, the organizational chart, and even our office addresses have changed. We have added and subtracted service offerings, and we have changed software programs many, many times. Staff have come and gone, sometimes more than once. (We joke about a revolving door. In a good way!) Throughout all these changes, Jess and the rest of our Corporate staff have flexed and sometimes flailed in the wind, but with flexibility on our side, we haven’t broken. We almost never make jokes about having a new priority. Instead, we come together as a team, again and again, and figure out how to continue.

But wait, there’s more…

Jess has also ridden the wave of change in her personal journey at HealthStar. Not including her time as CNA, Jessica first worked at Corporate, transferred to Duluth, transferred back to Corporate, and now lives in the Duluth/Cloquet area but still represents the Corporate office. Wait, what? Don’t worry about the details; the moral of the story is, she’s plenty flexible, and she goes with the flow. Jessica’s humility and “true to your roots” attitude make her approachable, and she always talks us down off the branches when things get a little too windy in that willow tree.

Open heart, open mind

Something that not everyone may know about Jessica is that, in addition to being an RN, she embraces a very unique skill set of healing. She is a Certified Level II Reiki Practitioner and says that blending western medicine and alternative medicine helps her to treat people holistically. Reiki has been around for thousands of years and is sometimes called “the laying of hands.” In practice, Reiki focuses on the transfer of healing energy from practitioner to patient, to revitalize the healing energy in the patient.

Maybe this explains why Jess has such grace and love for all of us – by sensing the energy around her, she sees more than just a single facet of a person, giving her a greater understanding of what makes us all tick. By keeping an open mind, and trying something different, Jessica is bringing a new perspective to HealthStar. There is something different about Jessica, and maybe this explains a little bit of that difference. There’s a lot that we can’t fully understand, but instead of dismissing those things, Jessica has embraced possibility and puts healing energy to great use.

But what about those shoes?

Yes, Jessica has some of the cutest shoes that I’ve ever seen. With my big clompers, I won’t be wearing anything like her shoe wardrobe. She’s not shoe crazy, she just has good taste. I know, this is four things, and usually I only do three, but this one is short. Great shoes. Hardly counts as a fourth.

By the way, Jess – how do you drive that big pickup truck with those fashion forward shoes on? And do you still wear heels when you go ice fishing?

Thanks for the positivity!

Corporate is lucky to have Jessica’s happiness, positivity, flexibility, and open mind on our side. Her love of HealthStar’s Clients shines through in every meeting. She is absolutely a strong advocate and spokesperson for the Client’s perspective and needs in receiving care. Jessica has brought a wonderful attitude of love and acceptance to HealthStar Corporate, and she has extended that attitude to the branch offices and to all of our Clients. We can’t wait to show you the benefits of this sense of love and caring!

Spotlight: Holly Eide, AZ/NM

It’s that time of year again. I sit at my desk, surrounded by white noise and plagued by static cling. My humidifier is straining to compete with the drying effect of my space heater, and I’m caught in the middle, coated in a thick layer of chap-stick and hand lotion, like an electrically-charged paper maché statue of myself. Yes, there are great things about winter. Sledding, holiday decorations, warm apple cider, and a cozy fire in the fireplace are all wonderful at times. But this is also the time of year when a few sneaky jealous thoughts might creep in toward Holly Eide, Area Manager of our HealthStar/Circle of Life Home Care offices to the south (WAY south) in Gallup, New Mexico and in Casa Grande, Arizona. Our Circle of Life Home Care snowbird manager is lucky to find herself in the land where weather-wise Northland retirees find gentler temperatures for their winter months.

Holly knows what the weather is like up north and down south. She started with HealthStar in MN in 2010, and then transplanted down to AZ in fall of 2016. This holiday season, as we celebrate Holly’s 8th year with HealthStar, we thought it would be a great time to learn a little bit more about her!

A little history

Holly has seen so many changes at HealthStar since she first started, and her background is as full of changes as her time with HealthStar has been. From court reporter, to stock market, to owner of an indoor park – which do you think gave Holly the most applicable experience for HealthStar? If you’ve guessed indoor park, you are correct! HealthStar is a lot like an indoor park some days, which is why we must remember to slow down in the corners and keep our chins tucked – we don’t want any bonked heads!

Holly Eide and Daniel Roebuck at the His Neighbor Phil premier party

After testing the waters in the billing department, Holly sprang into action mode when HealthStar needed a manager for its second Minneapolis office. From there, Holly made a bold and daring move to Arizona, where she is currently watching another new office take flight. She is our official HealthStar/AZ Circle of Life snow bird, although she is much younger than the traditional snow bird, and she rarely returns to the land of 10,000 lakes these days. Holly also watches over the Gallup Circle of Life office, so between those two warm states, she keeps plenty busy! Let’s find out more about what makes Holly tick – here are three things that I’d love to share about Holly. Holly, the HealthStar spotlight’s on you!

Sense of humor

Holly has been known to pull a prank now and then. Her signature move is the “gift of condiment” where she’ll sneak a salt or pepper shaker into your purse when you’re not looking. Really, I think she’s just being considerate – who couldn’t use a little extra spice? There’s less opportunity for these “gifts” with Holly several states south of Corporate, but she knows how to use the mail! Every package has a special item to give Corporate a laugh. Corporate knows how to use the mail, too – sometimes Holly gets a package full of glitter, or a box of 500 stress balls when things get really tough.

Holly Eide presenting Normal Aging vs. Dementia

Holly has been around long enough to have a bunch of tales to tell about “the old days” at HealthStar – if you ask her, you’re sure to have a chuckle! Ask her about the “just fired” car wrapped in saran wrap, or the Motel 8 ice bucket shipped lovingly to Katie Wagner at Corporate. She can tell you about the HealthStar Harlem Shake, ripped pants, eating doughnuts off strings, and the great 24ECC glitterbomb of 2017. Together, we took the Corporate office by storm during the office Olympics in 2012, and we witnessed the yoga planking craze later that year. Even from afar, Holly continues to make things a little lighter in our offices, helping us remember not to take things too seriously, and giving us plenty of memories to smile about.

Positivity

Ever need someone to help you look at the bright side of things when you’re feeling down? Holly is the one for the job! She sees the best in people and isn’t afraid to say it. Her optimism is contagious and helps to keep everyone around her moving! Holly doesn’t get bogged down when things are frustrating – she keeps on pushing toward the goal and has the vision of success in mind. Determination is key for Holly! Knowing it will be tough just makes her drive even harder for success. Competitive? You bet, but it’s all for a good cause. Well, I suppose for fun, too. Can’t forget about fun.

Holly Eide, Connie Stone, and Shannon Mackenzie at the MN State Fair one year later after discovering a lemon-sized brain tumor

One of the highlights that Holly has had with HealthStar was the time she spent working on HealthStar’s MN State Fair memory screenings. It was a huge undertaking, planning a booth and getting everything in place to complete memory screenings there. But Holly’s determination, and her belief in the project, got the team on board. The high point of the screenings was in 2016, with a very special visit from a woman who had failed a screen in 2015. It turned out that she had a lemon-sized brain tumor! Luckily, after the failed screen, she was instructed to see her doctor and followed through on that advice! Holly is still driven by this story today – she knows that this is the difference HealthStar can make in the lives of those we touch.

A Rolling Stone

If there’s one absolute truth I have learned about Holly over these years, it is that she Never. Stops. Moving. She is a true rolling stone, and she has gathered no moss. She thrives in an ever-changing environment, and she doesn’t back down from a challenge. Remember all the twists and turns from her business-life? Well, she doesn’t just take those corners at work – she’s also a wild and crazy careening force in her home life. She’s got 2 kiddos, both busy in sports (ask her about her hockey daughter and the Olympics!). At 34, she decided to take up BMX biking. She once competed in a bodybuilding event with her husband (remember the tan?).

What will Holly do next?

After 8 years of wild and crazy HealthStar adventures, Holly is still going strong in Arizona. During the winter months, she gets to watch the great migration of the northern SnowBird! How many retirees spend winter in Arizona each year? Thousands, and Holly wants to know how HealthStar can help! A busy Holly is a happy Holly, so let her know what she can do for your better health if you’re visiting the southern states during these cold winter months. You might just inspire the next great Holly Eide adventure!

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!