Every Presbyterian Homes & Services (PHS) employee has a story to tell about their work experiences. Today we share the story of Brian Freeberg, a Registered Nurse who recently joined the care team of Optage Hospice, part of the Optage® home and community services division of PHS.
Although he began his new position in November 2016, Brian has been on a journey with PHS for more than three decades.
Throughout the years, his service alongside his coworkers and care for residents and families has led him to this place in his vocation and his life. “I didn’t recognize that I was on a path,” Brian reflects, but now, when he looks back on his vocation with PHS, he can see how the way was being cleared all along and he knows that he’s found his calling.
It all began in 1979 when, at age 16, Brian started his first job as a dietary aide at the McKnight Care Center in Presbyterian Homes of Arden Hills (now Johanna Shores). He is in good company. Many Presbyterian Homes & Services employees who came to work as teens and young adults found more than a job; they found a vocation, a calling and opportunities to grow their career.
The residents he served in the dining room of the care center were the first older adults, other than his relatives, with whom Brian built relationships. “I found out how much I enjoyed working closely with the residents,” he said, “although it didn’t occur to me to make it a career at that point.”
Brian graduated high school and left for college to earn a Bachelor of Arts. He attempted several different career paths. “I tried to get a job that a younger guy thinks would be interesting—photographer, bus driver, pilot; but nothing seemed to work out,” he remembers.
Then Brian became the primary caregiver for his father who was living with dementia. After 10 years at home, his father needed more care and moved to McKnight Care Center. “He wasn’t there a long time but, as a family member, I saw how the nurses understood what was going on with dad and me and offered their support,” he said. When Brian doubted his own competence as a caregiver, his father said to him, “You can’t go back and change anything. If you don’t feel like you did a good job [for me], there are plenty of people to help. Go find somebody else. If you feel like you want to do more then do it.” His father’s wisdom resonated with him, motivating him to explore nursing as a career.
Brian returned to Johanna Shores care center in 2008 working as a Nursing Assistant while attending college to study nursing. “I’d had so many false starts, but this time, everything simply fell into place,” he said.
He was inspired by the motivation and depth of caring among his coworkers, learning that many had become professional caregivers in response to their sense of calling to help people. “For the first time, I was actually happy about being at work. I connected with everyone so quickly at PHS. I felt good about the people I was working with and the people I was serving,” he said.
Brian knew that his experience was the result of the PHS commitment to cultivate an environment where employees are valued and empowered to make a difference.
Brian also felt validated and supported through the PHS Educational Assistance Scholarship Program. PHS recognizes how important education is for employees to achieve their personal and professional goals. Educational opportunities offer ways for current employees to better their skills and obtain a degree that will pay back with greater job satisfaction and future earnings. “The scholarship made a huge difference by taking care of my tuition and book expenses,” he said.
Three years later, he graduated with an Associate Degree in Nursing, obtained his license as a Registered Nurse and stepped up to the role of overnight nurse at the care center. “I really enjoyed the night shift. It gave me a quieter pace and more time to spend with the residents,” he said. He recalled the many nights he sat with a family as their loved one was actively dying. By then, his years of experience as a server, nursing assistant, family member and nurse, informed and equipped him to understand what residents and their families were going through, what they might need and how he could respond.
“Some of the most rewarding experiences have been when I was able to alleviate someone’s suffering and make them comfortable. Then, when their family arrived, the resident was peaceful and the family was able to come together and make it a meaningful time,” he said.
Today, Brian is learning his new role as Optage Hospice Nurse by calling on clients alongside more experienced nursing colleagues, practicing new procedures and finding his way into the unique role of providing nursing care for those facing the end of life. Brian carries the skills and understanding he learned throughout his years as a PHS employee into his new role as a hospice nurse. He has discovered his willingness to get to know his client as a whole person. He finds he is able to lean into that person’s and their family’s experience of death and dying without losing his sense of professionalism.
PHS offers beautiful residences and an array of amenities, programs and services. But we know that the very best we offer to older adults is our people. Employees are our most important resource and we consider the work they do as ministry. Finding and keeping compassionate and caring people like Brian, then helping them grow in skill and understanding, is a high priority, no matter what level or position they begin their work with us.
Click here to learn more about the opportunities to find your ministry at Presbyterian Homes & Services.