Ultimately, Wendy Pieper is a problem-solver. When coupled with knowledge, experience and a commitment to helping others, she represents Sanford Health’s mission in caring for communities.
It is why Pieper, manager, RN care management – community, is the 2023 Becky Nelson Nursing Leadership Fellow. The year-long fellowship will allow her to explore hands-on professional development opportunities and learn from leaders and employees around the health system.
Over the past eight years at Sanford, Pieper has been instrumental in the development of several community-facing roles that meet patients where they are at. This includes the role of high risk care manager, community paramedic and health guide.
She additionally leads a group of centralized panel assistants who are integrated with regional teams and support preventive health care maintenance.
“It’s easy to say really nice things about Wendy,” said Lindsay Daniels, system executive director for care management. “She is a person with a huge heart and a lot of energy – everything she does is for the right reasons. She’s incredibly dedicated to our patients. She makes sure no one falls through the cracks and that everybody has the same fair shake.”
View from above
The Becky Nelson Fellowship will give Pieper a system-wide perspective of Sanford and provide insight into how the teams she leads can grow and develop. The fellowship experience for Pieper will be hands-on, as it was for her predecessors, which means she’ll be sharing her own insights in addition to receiving them.
“I’m getting the opportunity to experience what it is like to be at that top level of leadership,” Pieper said. “They have a lot on their plates. I would love to learn about their perseverance and resilience as well as their strategies for amazing outcomes. It will provide me the platform to meet, learn and be mentored by the best of the best here at Sanford.”
Pieper began her career as a surgical nurse more than three decades ago in Fargo, North Dakota. She was first hired into health care by Darla Dobberstein, who is currently executive director of orthopedics, neurology and surgical services for Sanford.
Pieper’s experience since then has included time in Tennessee in hospital leadership and, after returning to North Dakota, an extended stint in insurance case management. Since then she has led various teams in Sanford’s community spaces supporting patients with chronic health issues navigate their care.
Measuring impact on patients
Pieper continues to oversee those efforts enterprise-wide while also managing a staff of health guides. Health guides serve in a nonclinical role in helping rising-risk patients work their way through what can be a complex health care system.
“One of the things I’ve started working on is identifying how, through standardization and clarification, we can show how our care management team’s productivity and outcomes put us above other health care systems,” Pieper said. “We’re doing great work and we have great patient stories. We just need a meaningful way to communicate those outcomes.”
Pieper, whose resume at Sanford includes receiving the Florence Nightingale award in 2016 and a Manager of the Year honor in 2019, will be devoting 20% of her job to the fellowship. She will continue with her same responsibilities in building Sanford’s health guide and centralized panel assistant team.
Building nursing leaders
The fellowship was created in 2014 to honor Becky Nelson for her contributions to Sanford Health. Nelson, who began her career as a staff nurse, spent decades at Sanford Health and retired as the organization’s chief operating officer. She returned in 2018 as the Good Samaritan Society’s chief of staff to guide the integration with Sanford Health.
Last year’s fellow was Claire Frenzel, a Sanford technology solutions business partner who serves as a liaison to executive leadership in Bemidji, Minnesota, and throughout the health system.
Like Pieper, Frenzel began her career as a nurse and has since then used that as a starting point to leadership at Sanford. Also like Pieper, she was grateful for the opportunity and committed to making the best of it.
“I’ve worked with Wendy before and I’m so excited for her,” Frenzel said. “She is very well-deserving and she’s going to do a fantastic job. I’d tell her to embrace the opportunity to be fearless. Don’t hesitate to speak up.”
Solidifying a career in nursing
Frenzel’s career aspirations at Sanford remain the same as they were before her fellowship. She continues to aspire to positions of leadership at Sanford that give her the opportunity make an impact on the lives of nurses and nursing culture.
“For me, the fellowship really validated the things I thought about my career,” Frenzel said. “Our senior executives and vice presidents of nursing try to show their support for and showcase the excellent work of our nurses every day. For me I spent the year living and breathing a future career goal. It solidified that that is where I want to be when I grow up.”
Frenzel laughed when she said that last part, but she wasn’t kidding.
“I love the way the Becky Nelson Fellowship is leaving a legacy of leaders,” Frenzel said. “Becky was an amazing nursing leader who grew up within Sanford. Those are amazing shoes to fill and footsteps to follow.”
Pieper is now filling those shoes and following those footsteps. Already, the emails about new meetings and new issues are coming in. Daniels, who has observed Pieper’s efforts for years, sees a great year ahead.
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