The Very Best

Jean Hayes called the operating room home for many years in her registered nursing career. Through her nursing and leadership skills, Hayes was honored as one of 100 Great Iowa Nurses. Hayes is the chief nursing officer at Jackson County Regional Hospital, where she has worked for 28 years.

As she mentors nurses, Jean Hayes simplifies the nursing profession to three basic patient requests:

Don’t hurt me.

Heal me.

Be nice to me.

“Listen and be kind and be compassionate,” Hayes said. “That’s all every patient wants.”

That’s the care she’s provided during her 30 years in nursing. 

Now as the chief nursing officer at Jackson County Regional Health Center, Hayes finds herself with her colleagues in the middle of a pandemic the likes of which she’s never seen. The specter of COVID-19 has her concerned, as the hospital makes changes to visitor policies, staff prepping, possibly dwindling protective supplies, and updates its ever-changing pandemic

operations plan. No one knows how serious the COVID-19 pandemic will be in Jackson County.

But, Hayes said she is up for the challenge because of the knowledgeable, supportive medical staff around her.

Her positive attitude elevated her to be selected as one of the 100 Great Iowa Nurses for 2020. 

Co-worker Pam Schoenthaler nominated Hayes for the honor, which is bestowed on 100 nurses every year “whose courage, competence, and commitment to patients and the nursing profession stand out above all others,” according to the website. 

Schoenthaler praised her colleague.

“She empathizes not only with patients but family and loved ones in a caring, compassionate, understanding (way),” Schoenthaler wrote on her nomination form. “As a leader (she) is endlessly at the front line to help in staff family emergencies.”

Hayes appreciated the honor but became a bit teary-eyed as she passed the credit on to her co-workers and patients.

“I really enjoy bedside nursing, the contact with the patients,” she said. “That’s what really kept me going over the years. I nurture the team we have here, and we facilitate the best care we can here. I feel (nurturing the team) is just as valuable as the patient care.”

Hayes was born and raised in Maquoketa, but she never had that proverbial a-ha moment when the nursing profession called to her. She initially studied psychology and coaching in college, “but it wasn’t what I really wanted to do,” she said. “I loved anatomy and physiology and took ER tech training. That’s when I knew nursing was my thing.”

Hayes’ nursing career started 30 years ago as a surgical tech; she drove back and forth from rural Jackson County to Cedar Rapids while raising daughter Gwendolyn and son Jacob and helping husband Owen on the family farm. She praised her husband for supporting her as she furthered her education, eventually earning her master’s degree in nursing.

She always felt most at home while she was in the operating room, scrubbing in and helping with open heart surgery and neurosurgery.

She devoted the last 28 years to nursing duties at Jackson County Regional Health Center. 

“I just kept coming back to this hospital and community,” Hayes said after spending her first couple years at Finley Hospital and elsewhere. “I knew this community hospital was the right fit for me.”

She lives by the scouting motto of always being prepared.

“It’s about making sure you have everything ready to go and preparing for anything that might happen. And being confident in your team.”

A fellow nurse encouraged Hayes to pursue leadership roles at the hospital, and now she is the chief nursing officer. In that role, she oversees the nursing team, providing them with education and tools they need to do their jobs effectively.

“I really empower them,” she explained. “In my mind, they’re the experts, the boots on the ground. I listen to them and empower them to provide the best care we can.”

And Hayes puts in the same work she expects from others, according to Schoenthaler.

“I guess I could say Jean has been through the trenches and has walked the walk and continues to do so,” she wrote on the nomination form.

Hayes also makes patient rounds, talking to patients in the hospital daily and trying to meet their needs — even if they just want a Coke versus a Pepsi, she said. 

Because she’s lived here her whole life, “I provide that recognizable face. When someone walks in here and sees you and knows you and you know them, they can sigh (happily because they saw a familiar face), and say, ‘You’re here,’ and that makes my day. It’s always nice to take care of the people that I know. They have a special place in my heart.”

Hayes helped to bring podiatry, pain management, and general surgery clinics to the JCRHC, reducing travel time for many patients, Schoenthaler wrote. “Jean has a natural ability to get others to do what needs to be done and leads by example.”

She fosters the love of nursing in young people as well. 

“It’s an extremely diverse and rewarding profession,” Hayes said. “The need is always there.”

Nursing’s not always easy, Hayes said.

“There are some very difficult days and we question why did we go into nursing,” she explained. “But there are those poster days that shine. It’s a service profession, and some people are meant to be doing this.

“It’s one of those professions that every single day, I really feel like I make a difference in someone’s life.”