Moving Forward Together
Now that a year has passed in his new position, Dan Bjerknes reflects on Avera St. Luke’s bright future.

Moving Forward Together

Dan Bjerkeness Cover Photo Scaled E1718035344446

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

This quote from Maya Angelou is the perfect summary for Dan Bjerknes’ philosophy when it comes to raising his family. Now that he is the Regional President and CEO at Avera St. Luke’s Hospital, he has applied it to the workplace as well.

“We have a responsibility to provide good, safe care,” Dan said. “To do that, you have to want to do better.”

Originally from Thief River Falls, MN, Dan has lived in the Midwest his entire life. He studied psychology at Concordia College and completed his master’s degree in counseling at the University of North Dakota. Before Aberdeen, he lived in Williston, ND, and was President of Catholic Health Initiatives at St. Alexius Health-Williston.

“Telling my kids that we were moving was one of the hardest things I’ve done. But when we moved to Aberdeen, we were welcomed immediately,” Dan said. “It wasn’t just because of my job. People here are genuinely nice, caring, and helpful. That helped reaffirm that we made a good choice for our family.”

When the Presentation Sisters founded Avera St. Luke’s in 1901, it was because there was a need for healthcare in the community. Today, the staff at Avera are still dedicated to serving the community, and they are always open to solving whatever challenges come their way.

“Living in the Midwest all my life, I have a passion for rural healthcare,” Daniel said. “There are unique challenges with rural healthcare. In some smaller communities, there may only be one local clinic. That access is important to that community. I like to focus on growth and what we can do to enhance them.”

The philosophy of doing better doesn’t mean being critical of the current state of things, and the suggestion of doing better is not reflective of the care patients receive at Avera St. Luke’s. In fact, the hospital recently received a three-year accreditation from the Joint Commission and was named a Top 100 Rural and Community Hospital by the Chartis Center for Rural Health for the eighth year in a row. Avera St. Luke’s is also only Trauma III medical center in the area that offers 24/7 heart care.

Rather, “doing better” is built on the idea that if you listen to what your employees, peers, providers, patients and community really need and want, there are ways of doing things differently that can be better for all involved. It’s also about evolving with change.

Dan Bjerkeness Photo2As the health system works its way out of the pandemic, new providers are joining and new services with their specialties are being added. Additionally, Avera St. Luke’s Avera St. Luke’s telemedicine services have been able to keep patients close to home for their vital care. While there are many ways to be innovative with delivering care, sometimes the simplest changes can make the biggest impact.

“Hospitality is one of our core values and for me that also applies to our Avera teams,” he said. “I try to get out and engage with our employees as much as I can to listen and learn.”
Something as basic as expanding access to care beyond normal clinic hours can help alleviate the anxiety that comes with not being able to get care when necessary. That’s why Avera St. Luke’s modified hours and switched Urgent Care to After Hours Care earlier this year. The After Hours Clinic opens earlier on Friday afternoons so that patients can be seen without an appointment. Avera St. Luke’s has also worked with local agencies like the United Way to hold food drives for those in need and supports other nonprofits through its community partnerships program.

As a mission-focused ministry, Avera strives to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values. Many Avera employees are called by a passion to serve, and Dan is no different.

“When I accepted this job, the Sisters told me that it was my job to carry our mission into the future,” Daniel said. “Sometimes, it’s not easy work. But it has never been a burden, and I view it as an opportunity to grow.”

Part of this growth is thanks to Dan’s emphasis on communication across the board. He regularly meets with physicians and attends meetings in every department. It’s about meeting people where they are, he said.

“At first people were a little quiet, but now people are comfortable sharing things. These meetings are the highlight of my week now,” Daniel said. “Our ministry continues because of them. If we address how we can make things easier for them, our community will receive better care as a result.”

Aberdeen is blessed with the people who live and work here. Avera’s staff makes everything possible, and it’s important to celebrate and maintain a great atmosphere.

“We all have different jobs and titles, but it’s my job to address those issues and concerns that are front of mind for our patients and employees,” he said. “It’s easy to say that there’s an ‘open door’ policy, but I had to get in front of our employees to show them I mean it.”

It takes a great effort to push things to the next level, but Dan is confident that together, they can move forward. //

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Avera St. Luke's Dan Bjerknes