BANDON – Harold Sterrenberg grew up on a farm in Kentucky. His mother and sister were nurses and other family members worked in the medical field. From a young age he knew it was either the medical field, farming or the coal mines. He chose the former.
Sterrenberg, a medical lab technician in the clinical lab department at Southern Coos Hospital & Health Center was named Clinical Employee of the Month for June.
Sterrenberg started as a travel medical lab technician in July 2019, came on full-time in October 2019 and “has been a beacon of team spirit since day one,” his nomination states.
Sterrenberg was nominated for his “excellence as a standard with patient care. He sets a great example for training activities, quality care, increasing the efficiency of operations and jumping in to cover vacations and unexpected short-staffing situations,” the nomination continues. “He’s always ready to help and adds value to the success of the lab.”
Sterrenberg started his medical career at age 16 as a phlebotomist while still in high school, working part-time on weekends.
Prior to that, he worked doing post-mortem tissue samples at a pathology lab. Looking under a microscope got him hooked on lab work.
He received his training at the University of Kentucky and has now worked in the medical field for 47 years.
“If you had good grades (a local doctor) would sign a paper and you’d get most of your schooling paid for,” Sterrenberg said. “I didn’t want to be a farmer and I’m not good with patients, I’m like ‘suck it up buttercup.’ But I can deal with machines. I love doing it – 80% of diagnoses come from labs.”
Sterrenberg has managed labs in hospitals with 1,000 beds, stepping down to smaller hospitals incrementally and finally landed at SCHHC, a 21-bed facility. He loves his job.
“I like being able to figure out what’s going on (with a patient). We (often) know what’s wrong even before the doctors do from the lab work, but not officially,” he said. “It’s a puzzle.”
“Ebola, COVID, I’m not afraid of any of it. I’ve been in the field since I was 16 and I’ve never been sick. My father was born in 1914 and didn’t get Spanish flu. I don’t know if it’s in the genes, but I’ve never missed a day or been late to work, ever.
“I don’t ever want to retire,” he added.
He moved to Bandon from Havasu City, Ariz. where he lived for 14 years, and prior to that lived in Nashville, Tenn., for 14 years.
Sterrenberg and his husband Keith Sterrenberg came to Bandon on vacation and loved the area. They purchased a condominium at Face Rock Village in Bandon.
They also own a house in Tennessee and have bought and sold houses after fixing them up in places they’ve lived. Keith also has degrees in the medical field and has spent time caring for the elderly.
Sterrenberg said he doesn’t like the idea of being named employee of the month because he feels he and his co-workers are just doing their jobs.
“I think all my co-workers are wonderful,” he said. “We get along, we laugh, we joke.”
He does agree that he goes above and beyond because that’s the work ethic his parents instilled in him.
In his spare time, Sterrenberg likes to cook, Southern food in particular. Keith’s mother is from Sweden, so they also do a lot of Swedish cooking.
“I cook every meal. We don’t eat out often,” Sterrenberg said. “I spend a lot of money on kitchen gadgets. If I didn’t do this, I would have been a chef.”
His favorite meal to cook is buttermilk double-dipped fried chicken with whipped potatoes, green beans and homemade yeast rolls.
As to retiring, Sterrenberg admits he may eventually gear down to working part-time. But he feels if you have a purpose, it keeps you younger. Meanwhile, he puts his energies into his work and continues with a positive attitude.
“My glass is always full,” he said.