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Sister Jeanne Frances Cleves

St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead is an important resource for Eastern Kentucky. Sister Jeanne Frances Cleves, currently the Patient Satisfaction Liaison, was there at the beginning as one of the hospital’s first nurses. She remembers her journey to a lifetime of helping others in the medical profession.

“My sister went to the convent five years before I did,” she says. “She was always so happy when we went to visit her. She said, ‘I have everything I want,’ and I thought that was really something. I knew I wanted to help people and I wanted to be a nurse. I decided then that I could go be a nurse and go to the convent.”

During her years as a novitiate and juniorate with the Sisters of Notre Dame in Covington, she studied nursing and went into her career after taking her final vows.

In 1960, Dr. Claire Louise Caudill of Morehead, known in the community as Dr. Louise, reached out to the Sisters of Notre Dame to help start a hospital. The region was in need of additional medical resources at that time, but Sister Jeanne Frances was a bit hesitant.

“They asked me to come down and I thought, well, it seems like it’s awful far away,” she remembers. “I’ll try it for a little bit, and if I don’t like it I’ll come back to Covington to our nursing home, St. Charles. But I came down and just fell right in love with the place.”

The earliest days were a challenge. The sisters shared a small, sparse room with only a hot plate and the food they’d brought with them from Covington. When Dr. Louise realized how little her nursing staff had, she reached out to the community.

“She got a hold of I don’t know who all in the neighborhood,” says Sister Jeanne Frances, “She had arranged every night at 6:00, we would go down to the front door and wait, and we got a banquet.”

Sister Jeanne Frances has spent most of her career working at St. Claire’s, but she did take five years to work in Indonesia, which was a formative experience in her life.”

“In Indonesia, I practiced more as a doctor than a nurse,” she says. “I was in a very, very poor hospital. I lived with 30 other sisters. The people were all so happy over there. They don’t realize the little they have. But our doctors were very [short-staffed], and the nurses really depended a lot on me. I did deliver some babies and I did help in surgery when things were necessary.”

Back in Morehead, Sister Jeanne Frances was the evening coordinator for the emergency room for 40 years and employee health coordinator for 10 years.

“When this job came open, Patient Satisfaction Liaison, they thought I’d be a good one because I knew so many people,” she says with a smile. “But mostly I took it because there’s very little computer work.”

Sister Jeanne Frances visits patients in their homes and keeps up with spouses of patients who have passed away. It’s work she enjoys at the culmination of her long career of service to others.

“There were many times that it wasn’t so easy, being up late at night and getting up early in the morning,” she reflects. “But I think the Lord, I trust in him and he gave me the strength to just go on. I intend to stay as long as I can here.”

This segment is part of Kentucky Life episode #2011, which originally aired on February 21, 2015. Watch the full episode.