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A thankless job? At St. Luke’s, care stems from a sense of mission

Bekah McParlan, who serves meals to patients at St. Luke’s hospital, delivers lunch to Karen Gilchrist of Solon Springs on Wednesday. The hospital was named one of this year’s four Psychologically Healthy Workplaces nationally. McParlan, who has worked at St. Luke’s since high school, loves her job. (Bob King / / 2
Bekah McParlan wheels her cart carrying food trays for patients down a hallway during lunchtime at St. Luke’s hospital Wednesday. (Bob King / / 2

At first glance, it might seem that Bekah McParlan’s job wouldn’t be easy to love.

A room-service attendant in the dietary department at St. Luke’s hospital, McParlan helps patients order meals, delivers the food, sets up their trays and even cuts up the food when needed.

It’s essentially the same job the Duluth woman has been doing for 15 years, starting as a part-timer while she was still in high school.

If it sounds like a thankless job, McParlan doesn’t see it that way at all.

“I feel like I’m part of the health-care team,” McParlan said. “People aren’t going to get better if they don’t eat.”

That perspective is typical of the 2,600 people who work at the Duluth hospital, Marla Halvorson said.

You might expect Halvorson to say that as St. Luke’s director of human resources. But Halvorson has ammunition to back up her claim.

Two years ago, St. Luke’s won the Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award from the Minnesota Psychological Association.

This year, it won the same award — except this time,

St. Luke’s was one of only four workplaces in North America to receive the American Psychological Association’s award.

The Minnesota group, which nominated St. Luke’s, lauded the hospital in a news release for “cutting-edge” safety programs, staff-run committees and extensive skill and certification courses. It won in the category of large nonprofits.

Halvorson said the results can be seen in an average employee tenure of 10 years and a 29 percent reduction in workplace injuries in the past eight years.  

The successes stem from a sense of mission, she said.

“It doesn’t take a lot to convince our employees how important the work they do is,” Halvorson said.

“They’re saving lives. They’re bringing babies into the world, and they’re helping people through an illness or an injury. And we’re all focused on that.”

Tammy LaDean of Duluth said she enjoys the diversity of patients she sees as a registered nurse in the intensive care unit.

“I like the atmosphere,” said LaDean, 50, who has worked at St. Luke’s since 1995. “I like the challenge of the patient care that I’m doing, and I love the group of people that I work with.”

After McParlan, now 32, finished high school, she continued working part time at St. Luke’s while earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing at the College of St. Scholastica. She was a senior in college before she realized she’d made the wrong career choice, she said.

“I guess I get a little grossed out,” she said about nursing.

But she liked the hospital setting and liked working with patients, McParlan said. She has thought about going back to school after her student loans are paid off, she said, but with reservations.

“Man, I don’t want to go back to school,” McParlan said. “And I don’t want to leave Duluth. Or St. Luke’s.”