Lori Seibel has always been a helper. Beginning on a farm in southeastern Nebraska, her life has always centered on helping people. She grew up with two parents who were continually serving in some kind of elected office. Combined, her parents served over 72 years on school boards, county boards, and a myriad of other positions. These early influences showed Lori that individuals could make meaningful differences in other people’s lives.
“I never had a really strong understanding that not everybody had this ability to help people. They would call and tell my dad ‘We need some more rock on our road.’ It never really struck me that people didn’t get engaged in their community.”
Although Lori doesn’t share her parents’ desire for public office, she did inherit their ability to connect with a community. The jobs she’s held have all been in the public arena, and she’s always been sincerely engaged in whatever community she calls home. It’s who she is.
“Solving problems for my community was just how life was.”
Today, Lori calls Lincoln her home. She met her husband, kids followed, and they settled into the community here.
“It can take a while to find your roots, but you begin to care about a place when it becomes home.”
Lori began her career in Lincoln as the city’s epidemiologist, studying the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions in Lincoln.
Roughly 15 years ago, the city decided to privatize what was then Lincoln General Hospital (now Bryan West). At the time, Lincoln General provided many services to people who didn’t have the resources to go elsewhere—a sort of “safety net”, as Lori called it.
Selling the hospital was an incredibly divisive issue.
“You make memories in hospitals; you have babies, people die there, you have your life saved by someone there—it’s kind of a place that has meaning to you,” Lori said.
The city asked Lori to lead the community through the process; to turn a divisive issue into a positive one. They spent around 9 months letting people talk and vent about the upcoming change, with Lori helping to facilitate how the community felt about the issue.
“I’ve always been a big believer that it’s not so much the ultimate change that’s hard, it’s the process to get there. If you skip over that step—if people just make the change and don’t allow people to be engaged in it—it’s a lot harder.”
One of the themes that kept appearing during these talks was that people would feel better about the sale if there was some entity in place to take over some of the “safety net” roles that Lincoln General once had. As an answer to this, the city formed the Community Health Endowment.
The Community Health Endowment (CHE), of which Lori is the CEO today, fills the gap that the sale of the hospital left. CHE provides that “safety net” to the citizens of Lincoln, and implements various programs all dedicated to maintaining and improving the health of Lincoln.
“I don’t think people have a real sense of what goes on every day in Lincoln. If you could see below the surface, all that’s going on, it would be pretty amazing. Helping victims of child abuse, mental health issues, substance abuse, and domestic violence—every day there are people at work doing those kinds of things.”
Lori plainly and simply loves her job. But every job comes with challenges. She says her most frustrating days are those when she has a plan which she thinks could profoundly affect the community for the better, but it’s hindered when others struggle with the idea of change. What gets her through it is patience and the excitement of potentially seeing her vision become reality.
“When you get to step back and see what you’ve created—whether it be a piece of art or a new program for people without healthcare—it’s a satisfying experience.”
Her hope is that people from our community will also get involved in this vision to see Lincoln become a healthier city.
“The only way you can help it to be better is to be part of it.”