CEO Conversation: Bryan Nermoe, President And CEO Of Sanford Health’s Fargo Market

Written by: Brady Drake

It’s been a pretty crazy first year for you. With COVID and everything else happening. What can you tell me about how you’ve adjusted to your position here?
I’ve been at Sanford since 2008. I joined Sanford down in Sioux Falls and worked in various positions. In 2015, I went to Bemidji as the president of the Bemidji market and was there for five years before coming here. So, knowing Sanford and knowing the integrated system was a pretty significant help in dealing with the circumstances of a nationwide pandemic.

Can you tell me about Sanford’s special care unit for COVID patients?
I think from a preparedness standpoint, the first time around for our special care unit development was really during the Ebola crisis that hit the country several years ago. We were able to take that planning and preparedness and change it ever so slightly to be able to take care of patients for this COVID Pandemic. 

The primary difference between the two situations was volume. We knew that the volume for Ebola wasn’t going to be as high. With COVID, it was a little bit uncertain as to really what the levels were going to be like. 

How much time did you have with your predecessor to train in for the job you have now?
We spent 60 to 90 days, somewhere around that. 

While Sanford is a very large company, you’ve worked in a number of places, including, landscaping with your father, what business tips can you give people after having all of those different experiences?
One of the things that I loved about landscaping was that when you showed up in the morning at 5:30 a.m., you had a plan. It was a very succinct plan of what was going to happen that day. You’d load up your resources, go to a house, take pretty much everything from around the house, including the yard, out. Then, you’d bring all the new in. By 6 p.m. that night, you could stand back and look at everything you did. That gave me instant gratification from a job perspective. 

In healthcare, and a lot of other business industries, there, there’s some of that, but there’s not a lot of it. Things are a lot more long term. Things aren’t as visible, there isn’t this direct line of sight of what you’re achieving. 

With COVID, flexibility is something that people really need to have right now. You may have that plan when you wake up but, you may have to shift gears and be flexible. I also think it’s important to realize that things aren’t going to happen as fast as you’d like them to.

Also, take the time to celebrate, even if you’re in a pandemic, you have to celebrate your successes. 

What have been some of the recent challenges that you have been facing?
Your partnership team is a lot larger than it normally is on an average day without a pandemic. So, the communication channels and just the sheer size of communication can be challenging at times. And because it’s a pandemic, you’re doing everything virtually. As much as we’d like everybody to have one virtual platform. There are lots of virtual platforms. Sometimes even technology, which is usually an immense helper, can be a little bit of a barrier as well. 

Email only goes so far. You have to get out and you have to talk to people directly. You lose some of the tone and tenor in email communication. It’s not a great feedback loop. When people are moving at 100 miles an hour, you can tell a lot in that 10 to 15 seconds that you talk with them from their body language. 

I know it was really important for your organization to avoid layoffs during the pandemic. 
Sanford is an integrated organization, which means we have a lot of different arms of Sanford that work together under one umbrella. That’s a big part of why we didn’t have to do furloughs or layoffs. 

People come to health care, I think, for the most part, because they feel a calling. So, when we run into times where we have a need, like during a pandemic, we will upskill employees that have that ability and that passion.

One example would be our Power Center Trainers. At a time, they weren’t seeing athletes because of the pandemic. So, we had them go help out at the testing centers. 

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.