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May 18, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Jeanne D. Kennedy: Taking care of your people Jeanne D. Kennedy: Taking care of your people (May 18, 2005)

by Daniel Grujic

Jeanne D. Kennedy, the recently retired director of Community and Patient Relations at Stanford, has spent most of her life building.

Her living room is a mess today. There are pictures everywhere as she tries to compile an appropriate set for the group hoping to honor her contributions to the community. Dozens of smiling faces are littered about the living room, and a careful observer can find among them the ravishing young Jeanne, the King of Spain, a very primped Queen of England, and retired psychiatrist Allan Rosenberg dressed as a clown.

The pictures highlight some moments of the personal and professional career of the woman who describes herself as "always a bit of a rebel."

"You have to find your passion", said Kennedy

Although Kennedy graduated from Smith College with a degree in Mathematics, she found her initial jobs "boring." Kennedy said her interest in art grew after she volunteered as a docent in museums while she lived in Syracuse, N.Y. The "fascination" grew once she moved to Stanford.

In 1961 she began to volunteer for the Stanford Museum, and her involvement quickly grew. Kennedy went from docent, to treasurer, and then chair of the Committee for Art. At the same time, she built up an indexing business from home, indexing books for the Stanford Press.

Kennedy embarked on her professional career at 43, with two daughters, an already successful husband in tow. In a brief biography she wrote that "I started to feel restless and wanted to do something more."

That instinct led her to Stanford Hospital. After working at the Office of Medical Development, she worked at the Institute of Medicine in Washington D.C. Kennedy the developed and implemented the Office of Community and Patient Relations at Stanford Hospital because "people needed information." The division serves as a link between the hospital and local community, and provides many non-clinical supportive services to patients.

Initially, she was the only patient rep for the program. The job was hectic, Kennedy said. "Absolutely nothing we did was simple."

The idea of a program that would inform patients more thoroughly sometimes offended doctors. The operating budget was painfully low, and as the program grew Kennedy faced many bureaucratic obstacles.

"We were prevented from providing music for five years!" Kennedy said. The hospital had never played music to its patients before and feared some would grow angry if they heard music they didn't like.

So far there have been no patient complaints that Kennedy is aware of, who said music program plays pretty much anything. Interpretation services were also a value to patients, and the while budgetary constraints made growth slow, the division now has Spanish interpretation 24 hours a day in addition to Russian, Mandarin and 26 other languages.

A plethora of other valuable services have slowly been added on throughout her tenure, including: massage therapy, smoking cessation, pet therapy, and art at the bedside. She attributes much of the growth to patience, and the ability to handle the intricacies of budgetary, operational, and regulatory constraints. "I am very good at smoke and mirrors," she said.

The office has grown tremendously and at the time of her retirement Kennedy had "94 people working for [her] for pay" in addition to the strong volunteer base.

"I treat them as professionals," she said of the volunteers.

The community has also found her work invaluable, contributing roughly $900,000 a year to help sustain the programs and activities of the division. Donations have also helped the hospital acquire the extensive collection of art.

Kennedy retired as director in December, 2004, and now consults for health services and nonprofit organizations. She also regularly writes recommendation letters for her employees and interns and takes satisfaction in her ability to help them get into the school they want.

"You have to take care of your people; you have to fight for them."

Numerous organizations have recognized her work in the community. The "Volunteer of the Year" award from Stanford Hospital is named after her, she received an Athena award from the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, and "Woman of Vision" award from the Career Action Center.

When she received the Athena Award in 1995, an award that recognizes the professional excellence of women in the community, Kennedy spoke about her philosophies. The closing statement is bulleted as "Have fun, be human, care about each other."

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