Innovation unit leader spent year as a patient

"I know what it's like to lay in that (hospital) bed day in and day out."

Casey Riedberger was at the University of Minnesota studying to become a music teacher when a yearlong recovery from temporary paralysis changed her career plans.

Doctors diagnosed her with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks its nerves. After a months-long hospital stay, Riedberger spent several more months in rehab learning how to walk again.

“I had a lot of nerve pain and was in a wheelchair. Then I had a walker for a few months until my nerve pain could be under control. But I did make a full recovery,” she said.

The re-evaluation of her life’s plan stemmed from the nurses who cared for her during that journey.

An innovative new role

“They were fabulous. That’s why I decided to go back to school and be a nurse instead of a music teacher,” said Riedberger, who graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead.

She recently took on a new role at Sanford Health as nurse manager of the innovation unit opening this fall at Sanford Medical Center Fargo in North Dakota. It will be one of the only such units in the country to incorporate patient care innovations that may be applied to a broader patient population. The position intrigued her because it taps her background as a clinic and triage nurse and also as a researcher in pediatric diabetes and adult cardiac cases.

“It kind of tied both my research background and my quality background, which is the job I had before taking this. I really wanted to get back to the nursing side of things and back to the bedside. That’s what this job is. It’s improving patient care and trying new things and getting me back to the bedside in nursing,” she said.

‘I know what it’s like’

Just as that past professional experience will guide her, the personal memories of being a long-term patient will also help her see things through their eyes.

“I know what it’s like to lay in that bed day in and day out, and all you can look at is the walls and that ceiling. When I walked out of there I had a different view of what patients go through. I get it. When I say, ‘I know how you feel,’ I really do know how they feel,” Riedberger said.

Her biggest challenge is finding bright people who share that passion.

“I want the right people for this unit,” she said. “They have to be interested in innovation, in being ready for change. That’s kind of a tough place for a lot of people. There’s a lot of new grads that are really excited about the innovation unit because they come with that background from nursing school. But we also need experienced nurses, and those are the ones that are sometimes a little more resistant to change and willing to trying new things.”

Valuing nurses’ ideas

One of Riedberger’s hires is Kateri Schill, who recently graduated with her two-year registered nursing degree from North Dakota State College of Science in Wahpeton and is working on her four-year RN degree.

“It sounded cutting-edge and top of the line, but I thought there’s no way I’ll get it,” Schill said. “Having a job that’s really valuing your ideas will be nice. And, actually, as a new grad, that’s huge.”

Riedberger sold her on it during the interview.

“She had a very obvious passion for what she’s doing. Her enthusiasm is very contagious,” Schill said. “I feel like she’s a manager that’s got my back and wants this to be a really great unit, and that really shows. I appreciate that in a leader. There’s a huge difference between having a boss and a leader. Casey looks like leader.”

Constant change

Health care keeps changing, so the innovation unit and its staff allows Sanford Health to try new approaches on a smaller scale before expanding to its other locations. The organization operates 44 medical centers, 482 clinics and 269 senior living centers.

“We need to be on top of it,” Riedberger said. “Our patients are changing. They’re getting sicker. They want the best care possible. And in order to do that we need to be innovative.

“We need to look at things differently, from a patient’s perspective, from a nursing perspective. I think we currently do things from the top down. The ideas come from leaders. If we take the ideas from our everyday workers who do the work and implement them on this innovation unit, they’re more sustainable. It’s part of their work and part of their workflow, so we have more of an opportunity to adjust and change whatever suggestion it is at the ground level, rather than the top down.”

Sanford Medical Center Fargo, which opened July 2017, already includes numerous innovations that make it one of the most advanced hospitals in the region. These advancements include spaces specifically designed for care, team collaboration, private patient rooms with areas for the patient, caregivers and family members, and efficient floor plans that foster efficiency and communication while leveraging technology in new ways to improve patient care.

The unit is part of a broader push by Sanford Health to tap the talent and ideas of its employees. The organization recently announced a process for employees to submit ideas through existing channels or a new team led by David Shulkin, M.D., Sanford Health’s chief innovation officer.

Riedberger still has several open positions to fill on the unit.

“For these new nurses who maybe don’t know what kind of nursing they want to do, this unit offer tons of opportunities,” she said.

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Posted In Faces of Sanford Health, Health Information, Innovations

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