BEMIDJI, Minn. Sanford Health has developed a new program to reward its workers and, in its inaugural year, 20 employees were gifted, including two from Bemidji, Minn.

The Sanford Ambassador program selected Nurse Practitioner Heather Czywczynski and Inpatient Nurse Manager Lisa Noreen, both of Bemidji, along with 18 others, to be sent on a trip to Nashville. Czywczynski said they were surprised by their selections but accepted without hesitation.

The trip, which took place Feb. 23-25, included an itinerary of musical performances and sight-seeing.

"We met in Nashville and got there around the same time," Noreen said. "That evening we were provided dinner and an opportunity to network and get to know each other on the rooftop of the Bobby Hotel in downtown Nashville. That night we also had (singer) Nancy Ell perform for us."

Sanford Health employees take a tour during a recent trip to Nashville as part of a new Sanford program rewarding its employees. Photo courtesy of Sanford Health.
Sanford Health employees take a tour during a recent trip to Nashville as part of a new Sanford program rewarding its employees. Photo courtesy of Sanford Health.

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Czywczynski said the dining and live performances continued the next day.

"We had brunch with an acoustic concert with two newer, up-and-coming artists from Nashville," Czywczynski said. "Then we did some sightseeing before having a private tour of the Grand Ole Opry."

The location is a historic country music stage where the health care workers were treated to a special performance.

"The best surprise of all was that Lady A was there," Czywczynski said. "They were approached by Sanford with the stories of why we were chosen as ambassadors. It inspired them in the song they wrote called 'This Too Shall Pass.' It showed us that Sanford was appreciative of employees who sort of strived to give excellence in their day-to-day."

The Nashville experience followed a busy year for both Czywczynski and Noreen. The latter is the nurse manager of the acute rehabilitation unit on the fourth floor of the Sanford Bemidji Medical Center.

In 2020, though, that unit was converted to the coronavirus special care unit.

"That unit within weeks was ready to handle an influx of COVID patients and that's exactly what we did," Noreen said. "Our first patients were admitted to that unit in July and then it continued. It remained open until about the end of January and thankfully the numbers have been going down. My role was to help manage the unit and care for the COVID patients."

Czywczynski, meanwhile, was hired by Sanford in November and was originally supposed to start in osteoporosis care out of the orthopedics department.

"The third day of my employment, though, they asked if I'd work in the special care infusion center which was going to deliver the monoclonal antibody therapy to COVID outpatients," Czywczynski said. "I worked with three other nurse practitioners to get the unit up and running. We were very successful, delivering the first antibody infusion in all of the Sanford footprint. It paved the path to our outpatient infusion."

For Noreen, the ambassador program is a strong way to honor the work she and Czywczynski did in the past year, along with many other Sanford employees.

"To me, it means continuing to be a member of the Sanford Health family and promotes the excellent care we provide, not only in Bemidji, but in all of the regions," Noreen said. "We were all from different areas in the country. There were nurses, physicians, representation from security, patient access workers and dietary. It was a full mix of individuals."