St. Otto’s Care Center roots run deep in the town of Little Falls, Minn. The center was founded by the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, whose tradition of caring for the elderly began in 1891.
Today, it remains a vibrant part of the community, having evolved into a 93-bed skilled nursing center that offers long-term and short-term care as well as outreach services.
Brian and Krista Bernander are well aware of St. Otto’s deep legacy in elderly care. The couple, both in their 30s, acquired the nursing center two years ago and manage its day-to-day operations. They say their job is to do all they can to provide the care that their residents need.
After all, Brian said, “This is their home.”
“I feel like we were called to do this,” Krista said.
Brian and Krista met while playing intermural volleyball in their undergraduate years in college, and they have been together ever since. Brian received his bachelor’s degree from Winona State University in business administration and marketing. Later, he earned a master’s degree from Waldon University in business administration with an emphasis on leadership.
Krista holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of St. Benedict in nursing and a master’s degree from the University of St. Thomas in health care.
Krista’s uncle and aunt owned St. Otto’s for several years before selling to Brian and Krista. In fact, they hired Brian nine years to work there as an assistant administrator. He was eager to gain a greater insight into the senior care industry and what it would take to operate the larger facility.
“I was looking at it from the perspective of what I could provide from a leadership position,” Brian said. “I was ready to take a step with a new voice and new vision of servant leadership.”
Though new to owning a care facility like her husband, Krista’s background in healthcare has prepared her for the many demands. As a registered nurse, Krista worked in a cardiology department in Baxter Minn. and at Abbott Northwestern Hospital.
When Krista’s aunt and uncle were ready to shift ownership in 2016, Brian and Krista took over ownership of St. Otto’s care center.
“Brian and I talked a lot about what it would mean to commit our life to the long-term care business for the next 20 years,” Krista said. “I know we made the right decision.”
Brian said he is pushing to instill a servant leadership philosophy into the center’s day-to-day operations. Brian explained that his philosophy revolves around the internal desire and hope to meet a resident’s need. It is based on simply serving others with no expectations that you will receive anything in return.
“These people have great histories, families and experiences of life that we all get to share and live and learn from,” he said. “It’s just so gratifying to hear and receive their wisdom.”
Krista added, “There’s a reward of knowing that we’re touching so many lives in a positive way,”
Brian said the narrative of senior care center’s must be redefined as “an institution to a fruitful and enjoyable home.”
Brian’s commitment to change the narrative of senior care centers through his work at St. Otto’s was recognized by the Care Providers of Minnesota, which presented him the 2018 Member of the Year Award.
“It was a very humbling feeling,” Brian said. “I know that there are many others in this state and across the nation that are so deserving.”
“Brian has a tremendous amount of respect for people at our facility and beyond,” Krista said. “He has been very dedicated to the long-term care industry and the elderly – he is so passionate and it’s a well-deserved award.”
Such commitment will be needed given the many challenges ahead in elder care. Minnesota is in the middle of a senior population boom, and 25 percent of the state’s adults will be 65 or older by 2025. Krista said she already is seeing the effects in the senior care workforce.
“As a state, I don’t think we are equipped yet to have the number of healthcare workers it’s going to take to provide the right care for the elderly,” Krista said. “As an industry, we have to continue to work hard to make it an appealing field you want to come and work in.”
Brian and Krista look forward to continuing to focus on building the St. Otto’s team and aligning their values to provide future success.
“On behalf of the sector of elderly care, I would say thank you, to our residents and families for entrusting to care for their loved ones,” Brian said. “All of us in this sector take that responsibility (seriously) and work hard every day to make sure that our residents are cared for.”
Added Krista: “We currently have significant leadership at the state level that advocates every day for the betterment of the aging population. Continue to trust that we are heading in a better direction to take care of our seniors.”
Brian and Krista Bernander support others who are interested in getting involved in long-term care and welcome conversations to learn more about their experience and how to get started. You can contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org and Krista at email@example.com
Learn more about St. Otto’s Care Center by visiting their website at stottos.org
Aaron Roundtree is a regular contributor to Face Aging MN. If you want to reach her or have any questions, you can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have your own story to share? We’d love to hear from you.