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‘I hope to run health centres where the staff want to work’ because it’s good for nurses & patients, Carli Fjeldberg says

Administrator knows from firsthand experience that nurses are at their best when they’re valued and nurtured

By Laura Eggertson
December 4, 2023
Nicole Romanoff Photography
“As we continue to battle global nursing shortage crises, high patient volumes, and increased demands for long-term care beds, I hope to run health centres where the staff want to work,” Carli Fjeldberg says. “I want the place that they spend 12 hours a day, weekends, and holidays — missing time that they could be with friends or family — to be a wonderful place.”

The day the hospital moved the water station into a locked staffroom two lengthy hallways away from the area where Carli Fjeldberg and other surgical nurses snatched a drink while caring for gravely ill patients, the dedicated health-care professional began rethinking her career choices.

It was the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fjeldberg, at the time a licensed practical nurse, was working at a community hospital while simultaneously earning her bachelor of science in nursing degree from the University of Saskatchewan.

“At the time, I hardly could find a moment to take a 15-minute lunch break late in the afternoon, let alone a drink of water,” she says.

“I remember thinking that day, ‘Now I am not even allowed my basic human needs.’ It was not long after that I quit.”

For Fjeldberg, the decision to deny nurses easy access to hydration was a stark example of policymaking that had unintended impacts.

Systemic policies intended to promote patient safety (by removing potential infection sources if people gathered at a water station) can unintentionally devalue the very health-care workers who are essential to delivering quality care, she says.

Nurses can only be successful at ensuring patients’ safety if they are well-cared for and nurtured themselves, she believes — a concept she heard articulated at the International Council of Nurses Congress in Montreal earlier this year.

Making more impact

Although Fjeldberg enjoyed her work in direct patient care, she decided she could make more impact on the nursing profession as an administrator.

Even before she finished her BSN, an opportunity arose for Fjeldberg to test her approach.

Alongside her studies and her hospital job, Fjeldberg had also been working on a casual basis at the Ross Payant Nursing Home. The 37-bed long-term care facility is in Assiniboia, Sask., a small town about an hour’s drive southwest of Moose Jaw.

The nursing home needed a new health services manager — as did a 16-bed long-term care facility at the nearby Lafleche & District Health Centre. A group of Fjeldberg’s colleagues, all continuing care assistants, called and asked her to apply for the position.

Fjeldberg jumped at the chance, undeterred by the heavy workload of also completing her fourth-year practicum.

“I’m very organized,” she says, in an obvious understatement.

“I had worked here (at the nursing home) for a while and I thought, there are so many things I would change — so I just said ‘Okay, I will throw my hat in the ring’.”

When she got the jobs, Fjeldberg was excited, despite her need to balance the workload with life with her husband, Jackson, on the grain farm they own and operate just outside of Assiniboia.

‘Professional and mature’

Between shifts at the Assiniboia Union Hospital for her placement, Fjeldberg submitted assignments and ran the nursing home facilities off the side of her student desk, says her supervisor, Joanne Petersen.

“She is a dynamo, incredibly professional and mature, very compassionate and wise beyond her years.”

Today, Fjeldberg runs both the nursing homes and manages two primary care clinics, the Lafleche & District Health Centre clinic, and the Mossbank Primary Health Care Centre in Mossbank, Sask., another nearby community.

At the long-term care homes, she oversees direct patient care: admitting new residents, transferring patients to hospital, organizing care, assessments, catheter administrations, and oxygen management, and dealing with changes in patients’ health status.

She loves interacting with the patients.

“I feel like an old soul,” says Fjeldberg, who is 32. “My grandparents raised me, so I have a lot in common with geriatric populations — I love Abba, I love to crochet and garden. I’ve never felt joy like I have working with this population. It doesn’t feel like work. It feels like a home.

“I feel like I’m with my family.”

Fjeldberg also manages human resources at the nursing homes and clinics. She hires and fires staff, administers budgets, payrolls and schedules, orders equipment, organizes and ensures training, and ensures her staff maintain or exceed service and quality care standards.

She prides herself on supporting her teams’ health, safety, and passions.

Prioritizes employees

“I endeavour to be a leader who prioritizes the health-care workers who are under my employ and direction,” she says.

Treating her staff well translates into better patient care, Fjeldberg says.

“As we continue to battle global nursing shortage crises, high patient volumes, and increased demands for long-term care beds, I hope to run health centres where the staff want to work,” she adds. “I want the place that they spend 12 hours a day, weekends, and holidays — missing time that they could be with friends or family — to be a wonderful place.”

Already, Fjeldberg has instituted changes she wanted to see when she worked at the nursing homes as a licensed practical nurse.

By changing the start and end times to encompass medical schedules, she has brought 24-hour nursing care back to the LaFleche facility, which had lost that oversight, as well as several registered nurses, during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She also hired a unit coordinator to help staff liase with families, which helped balance the need for the new RN positions with scheduling more shifts for experienced licensed practical nurses.

The changes have meant Fjeldberg has been able to admit residents with higher and more acute needs, preventing families from having to send their loved one far away to a larger centre.

“We’re so happy that we can now say ‘Yes’ to having new people here — we are keeping families together,” Fjeldberg says.

Recently, the young daughter of one of her nurses told Fjeldberg her mom was happier and enjoying work. Thanks to the shift changes Fjeldberg instituted, the nurse spends more time at home when her daughter is not in school.

Dream big

That was all the endorsement Fjeldberg needed to let her know she is making a difference.

“When I hear my nurse’s child tell me that her mom is happier, fulfilled, and talks about all of the good changes we are making — that is how I know I am going to be providing a higher level of patient care to our residents, because I know that their nurse is taken care of,” Fjeldberg says.

Despite all her responsibilities, Fjeldberg finds time to enjoy carpentry — she recently built a greenhouse — photography, and reading, in addition to spending time with her dog, cat, and at her book club.

She also continues to dream. It’s a pastime she wishes she’d indulged in more as a child in Medicine Hat, Alta.

“Growing up, I never thought that I should dream big. I was focused on surviving and aiming medium — aiming for what’s achievable,” Fjeldberg says.

“But one thing I’ve learned … is to dream as big as you want. There are naysayers or reasons you think you might not be able to do it, but just go for it. All that opportunity is out there. If you work hard enough and you want it badly enough, you’ll certainly get it.”

Laura Eggertson is a freelance journalist based in Wolfville, N.S.