St. Joseph’s administrator roots values in founding sisters’ vision

| September 23, 2010 | 1 Comment

Phyllis Novitskie, right, talks with nurse Aniko Brang at St. Joseph’s Hospital. Dave Hrbacek / The Catholic Spirit

When Phyllis Novitskie, 59, began her nursing career at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul in 1977, she was fresh from Winona State University and was adventurously planning to move to Alaska in a year’s time to be a public health nurse.

As her first year ended, however, she decided to stay. She loved the work, the community and the health care philosophy inspired by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who founded the hospital in 1853.

Now an administrator, Novitskie has been at the hospital for 33 years. She has educated nurses, led teams of nurses and overseen expansion projects. She plans to retire Oct. 1.

Her work is deeply inspired by the sisters, she said. At the beginning of her career, sisters still worked at the hospital; the last one retired about a year ago, Novitskie said.

“They were quiet but very deliberate in how they chose to be with patients and with employees,” she recalled.

Today, lay physicians, nurses and other caregivers are responsible for embodying the sisters’ spirit, which includes respect for the dignity of all people, Novitskie said.

She strives in her own leadership to reflect these values, she said, describing it as leading with dignity, consistency, positivity, professionalism and humor, along with hope, caring and compassion, she said.

And she is just one of many at the hospital who share that vision, she added.

“I’ve learned over time that [caring] for a person in illness, and certainly in a critical illness, is a privilege, and it’s a gift — that someone would allow you into a space as a complete stranger when they are so vulnerable with themselves and with their families,” Novitskie said.

She learned that lesson from the sisters. “So much of who they were and what they believed was modeled,” she said. “It wasn’t overt, but it was very deliberate in their going about their day.”

Caring for inmates, others

St. Joseph’s Hospital’s identity and philosophy of care shape her ethics, she said. They’re what compelled her to lead the hospital to partner with the Minnesota Department of Corrections to offer health care to prison inmates.

The arrangement drew concern when it began more than 10 years ago. Some feared it jeopardized the hospital patients’ safety in an already-troubled downtown neighborhood.

However, Novitskie insisted it was the right thing to do.

“[Inmates] need the basic care with the same dignity and the same respect as every other human being,” she said. “I do believe that many of these people, for the very first time in their lives, have been treated with respect and dignity and unconditionally, in terms of their care.”

As she discerned the arrangement, Novitskie visited other hospitals that care for inmates, and spent time listening to staff concerns. Since initiating the program, the hospital and corrections officers have worked to ensure the safety of the inmates and their caregivers, she added.

Novitskie says knowing the hospital’s history helps to root her in her approach to faith-based leadership. She keeps the history book on her office shelf but said she knows its contents by heart.

Novitskie views herself as a steward of the Catholic faith on behalf of the hospital, she said.

“Sometimes it helps to know where you’ve been to know where you’re going,” she said.

Biography

  • Title: Executive lead/associate administrator at St. Joseph’s Hospital, St. Paul.
  • Parish: St. Joseph’s Hospital chapel, Cathedral of St. Paul
  • Spouse: Dr. Thomas Yue.
  • Children: Allison Yue and Emily Yue.
  • Activities: Convent of the Visitation School board of trustees, St. Paul College General Advisory Committee, Catholic Health Association of Minnesota board member.

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Category: Leading With Faith