Carla Norelius retires after 44-year career
ECM Post Review
To many locals, Carla Norelius is the face of Fairview. Through mentoring in local schools, planning community health care events and countless other duties in the health care system, she has established relationships with patients and colleagues who appreciate her fun spirit and strong work ethic.
At a recent tea at Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, many thanked Norelius and congratulated her on her retirement from a 44-year career with Fairview and its predecessor organizations. Her last day as Community Health Outreach manager was Jan. 10.
“Carla has had such a tangible impact on Fairview’s mission to improve the health of the community,” said Steve Housh, president of Fairview Lakes Medical Center. “Her list of accomplishments is long, such as creating a program to help youth in our region learn about health careers, matching mentors with middle school students in schools throughout the region, providing bike helmets and promoting bike safety across the region and working with community partners to help prevent suicide.”
Housh also praised Norelius for helping to make the Fairview Lakes Auxiliary one of the strongest hospital auxiliary groups in the state, with more than 350 members.
“She has always been a great leader and mentor on the board for everyone,” said Pat Rogowski, who worked with Norelius for 10 years on the Fairview Lakes Auxiliary Board. “I have so enjoyed working with her on many projects through the auxiliary and have appreciated her guidance and help along the way. We have so much fun planning our events, but at the same time, we get a lot of work done. … Fairview is losing a mighty fine employee.”
Norelius graduated from North Branch High School in 1970. A year earlier, she was one of 10 women who graduated from a nurse’s assistant class at Chisago Lakes Hospital. She started her career as a candystriper at Chisago Lakes Hospital.
“I made $1.33 per hour wearing candystriper uniforms,” she said. “I worked as a nurses assistant during my senior year at North Branch High School.”
She moved onto the hospital nursing staff and worked as a medical assistant in the clinic. Her first check totaled $62 for 59.45 hours of work. She keeps the paystub encased in glass as a memento.
In 1989, Norelius served as the clinic manager in Chisago and at North Branch Clinic, and headed customer relations at Fairview Lakes Medical Center when it opened in 1998. Yet it was through her work in Community Health Outreach that she became widely known in the community.
“She helped to make the workplace fun, so that everyone looked forward to coming to work every day,” said Dr. R. Paul Post, a family physician who has worked at the Chisago Lakes clinic since 1981. “I think a large part of the long-term success of our clinic can be attributed to those early days when Carla helped set the tone.”
Norelius feels fortunate that her career path went in different directions under one company.
“I’ve never been bored a day in my life, and I won’t let that happen,” Norelius said. “In the old days working in a hospital setting, you could build trust and educate patients the night before their surgery, and they remember. You had a relationship with people. Parents remember me because I was there for their child’s birth. It’s very fulfilling.”
Through her community outreach work, Norelius also launched Fairview’s mentoring program. For 15 years, the program has been pairing local students with adult mentors. As the staff began to see how their relationships with the students helped improve the kids’ attendance, self-esteem, behavior and academic performance, the program was named “Friends Make A Difference,” and the scope expanded to provide personalized guidance for each student and to include adult volunteers from the community as mentors.
Today, Friends Make A Difference operates in 15 schools in the Forest Lake, Chisago Lakes and North Branch school districts, with the help of about 200 mentors composed of Fairview staff, community members and volunteers from several local businesses and organizations.
“It’s thrilling to go to high school graduations, and we’re always looking for mentors, especially men,” said Norelius, noting there are more boys than girls on the waiting list.
Retirement started with a trip to Mexico for Norelius. Otherwise, she’s looking forward to “not having a schedule or a list three pages long.”