GREENFIELD — With gratitude and a humble sense of accomplishment because of a team effort over a long period of time, Jane Ernst put on her nurse’s stethoscope for one of the last times this week because she is retiring. Ernst’s last day at Adair County Health System was Wednesday, Sept. 15.
Ernst has been a nurse for 41 years. She has spent the vast majority of her career at Adair County Health System working in a variety of areas, most recently as director of Adair County Public Health.
“I kind of have mixed feelings about retiring. I’m really excited to have more of a chance to spend time with family, but I’m also going to miss the people I’ve worked with and the things I’ve done,” Ernst said. “I’ve been so fortunate to have had a career that I’ve loved and enjoyed all these years. Looking back, one of the biggest things that sticks out to me is that I worked with some really wonderful people over the years. A lot of them will be friends for the rest of my life. I’ve also been very honored and privileged to have served the community I grew up in. That doesn’t happen for everyone either.”
Ernst said that despite the fact that there were no nurses in her family as she grew up in Greenfield, there isn’t a time she remembers when she didn’t want to be a nurse. The draw of helping people, because of an early conversation she had with her grandfather, was the sticking point for her.
The last year and a half, during the pandemic, has been especially challenging for Ernst and her colleagues, however she said that she retires with a sense that they’ve helped and guided the community through it the best they could. Stephanie Claussen has moved into the director role for Public Health upon Ernst’s retirement. The agency’s other employee is Lisa Hamilton, a registered nurse.
“It had its rewards too. There were a lot of long hours, no days off, and that sort of thing, but I really feel like we, as an agency, helped a lot of people,” Ernst said. “We answered a lot of questions and felt stretched in a lot of ways. I feel kind of guilty that I’m leaving and it’s not really over yet — I had hoped we’d be farther along — but I’m leaving Public Health in good hands.”
Ernst started off as a staff nurse for a period of 17 years. She remembers floating between various departments, including OB and surgery. After that, she transitioned into home healthcare with a private company. When that agency closed, she went to nursing home management. It was then that she was drawn to Public Health, which then had home healthcare under its umbrella. She has been with Public Health for 19 years.
Nursing has changed vastly in Ernst’s time of service. She said equipment, supplies and the way things are done have all changed through the years.
“Let’s just start this way: I used mercury thermometers. Just silly things like that,” Ernst said. “There weren’t as many disposable things, we reused them and sterilized them. Some of the more seasoned nurses and I laughed about how we didn’t wear gloves back in the day. That seems disgusting now, but it’s just the way it was. I think overall, the basic work is still the same. There have been advancements in technology and the pharmacy — we used to mix our own drugs and that’s against regulations now — but that’s just the way it was.”
Ernst said there are many people to thank as her career comes to a close, including board of supervisors, board of trustees and board of health members from over the years, coworkers, hospital administrators and leaders, and the community.
As the pandemic continues, she thinks Public Health has planted seeds of good communication and leadership in the community so that the county’s residents and healthcare entities will continue to weather difficult times.
Ernst said that after a time away from the healthcare scene, she isn’t ruling out that she could be back in part-time roles from time to time to help the hospital.
“There were tons of changes that happened, especially in the beginning. We’ve got some systems in place to deal with that. The health system has been a great support in that as well,” Ernst said. “I feel we’ve left a good reputation, that people trust us, and I think they will continue to do so. We’ve tried to be up to date on things and as helpful as possible, though not everybody’s going to be happy, and that’s just a part of life. We’ve tried to have a sense of fun, not forgetting our sense of humor, and have tried to take a little time out to decompress a bit. That was very necessary.”