How Dr. Jeanne Donlevy Arnold ’83 (Hon. ’17) has brought her passion and expertise to Saint Joseph’s College
By Patricia Erikson
Photo caption: Dr. Jeanne Donlevy Arnold ’83 received an Honorary Doctorate of Public Service at Saint Joseph’s College’s 2017 Commencement. When she stepped to the podium, she surprised the crowd with an announcement. Photo: Vinnie Zullo.
Growing up as the daughter of two blue-collar workers in the village of Chepachet in northwestern Rhode Island, Jeanne Donlevy Arnold ’83 Hon. ’17 didn’t expect to distinguish herself as an award-winning philanthropist who would pledge the largest gift by any individual in Saint Joseph’s College’s 105-year history. Arnold’s journey has been a remarkable one. Not only has she experienced dramatic changes in women’s role in the healthcare profession, she has had a hand in creating that transformation. A recipient of a bachelor’s degree from Saint Joseph’s College in 1983 and an honorary Doctorate in Public Service at this year’s commencement, Dr. Arnold has turned her expertise, her passion, and her philanthropic support towards her alma mater. Last year, she joined the Board of Trustees. This year she stepped forward to lead a campaign to create the Center for Nursing Innovation. At her side stands a national network of alumni and friends of the College who have accepted the role of Nursing Ambassadors to support this campaign.
When Arnold describes the start of her career in the 1960s, she remembers how young women were encouraged–by everything from social norms to guidance counseling–to consider only three careers: teaching, home economics, and nursing. She made this choice easily.
“I can’t remember when I didn’t want to be a nurse, caring for people, doing what you could to help others. My father wanted me to be a teacher. But, I wasn’t interested in that and we couldn’t have afforded the University of Rhode Island for a four-year degree anyway. As a three-year diploma, nursing was more accessible financially, especially with scholarships. Four-year degrees in nursing weren’t stressed much at that time. During our senior year we staffed the hospital and as soon as we graduated, there was never a question that we would get work. We were ready to take care of patients.”
Years of patient care experience has shaped how Arnold feels about the nursing program at Saint Joseph’s College and how she approaches healthcare administration.
“Open heart surgery was so dangerous when I started nursing. In those days, a priest would come the night before and give the patient their Last Rites. You wouldn’t believe what the cardiac equipment looked like: huge boxes of computers and suctions. Today everything is so tiny. There was a patient named Dottie. She needed to have the valves in her heart rebuilt. Taking care of her in post-op made a big impression on me. It was a very scary procedure in those years, but she went into it with such hope and strength. The surgery went well and she survived it. I believe in medicine, obviously, but I think that if you truly believe that things will go well, it helps shape the outcome. I still share Dottie’s story with patients to this day, especially how her positive outlook had such an influence.”
As Arnold’s career advanced from staff nurse to critical care nurse to head nurse of a coronary care unit in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, her three-year degree remained a barrier for her. She identified Saint Joseph’s College because of its pioneering program that began in the 1970s.
Photo caption: Arnold spoke to students at the annual Nursing Lighting Ceremony in 2017 where students receive the ‘blessing of the hands.’ Photo: Mody Botros.
“I connected with Saint Joseph’s College because it offered a distance learning program in nursing that awarded credits for having worked as a nurse. Plus, I could earn my bachelor’s degree while still working. I kept my credibility with the nursing staff but developed my opportunity to strive for leadership and to make a difference. Because it is a faith-based college and has developed its nursing program with the call to care for the whole person–body, soul, and spirit–Saint Joseph’s College is unique in Maine and nationally.”
Even when she secured a bachelor’s degree at Saint Joseph’s College, she faced other challenges, including the shifting gender roles for women in leadership. Although petite in stature, Arnold’s bold, yet kind, demeanor made her stand out as a problem solver who truly understood nursing.
“At that time, we had to get doctors to understand that women could be valuable as administrators. There was an old boy network that you had to work through. Traditionally, you see, the nursing directors wore white uniforms. As I became an administrator, I still wore the white uniform once a week and made rounds to maintain my connection to patient care. But nursing still was predominantly female. So when executive nurses, like myself, began to transition from the white uniform to business attire, it was a very visible and challenging professional transition.”
But Arnold navigated this changing landscape, moving from Director of Nursing and Chief Operating Officer at Ephrata Community Hospital to the Chief Operating Officer at Community General Hospital in Reading, Pennsylvania.
At one point, when hospitals were experiencing low patient censuses, yet homecare was booming, Arnold saw that her nurses were being asked to take time off without pay. Her response? She developed a program to change the whole model of health care–a Collaborative Delivery Model–where hospital nurses were cross-trained to provide a continuum of care between hospital care and home care. “The model was published and it generated team visits from several different countries. As long as I could show it made sense financially and for the patient, I had the freedom to change care.” Nurses were able to work across diverse modes of patient care and stay working full time.
While serving as Senior Vice President for Patient-Care Services at Good Samaritan Hospital in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, Jeanne met–and eventually married–businessman and philanthropist Ed Arnold. Although she retired from the administration, she dedicated herself to volunteering and supporting a vast array of organizations at the local, regional, and national level, including Penn State Children’s Hospital, Lebanon Valley College, and the Boy Scouts of America, to name a few.
Since joining the Saint Joseph’s College Board of Trustees and agreeing to serve as Chair of the Center for Nursing Innovation campaign, Arnold has returned to Saint Joseph’s College to make a difference for the nursing program at her alma mater. “Nurses are at the forefront of healthcare, crafting and innovating changes. Nurses are leaders and advocates for the patient—who is at the center of healthcare. The students in the Saint Joseph’s College nursing programs—both on-campus and online—already have heeded that inner call, that vocation so to speak, to help others in the most fundamental way, through patient care.”
“But without state-of-the-art spaces and the programs to deliver and enhance their nursing education, dedicated nurses—both those who are still students and those who are already practicing but need further education—are limited in their potential. That is why this campaign is so incredibly important. Saint Joseph’s has the dedicated faculty. It has students who have committed their lives to the nursing profession. It has a wonderful educational program foundation. But now, for the sake of these nursing students, for the sake of nursing, and for the sake of healthcare in Maine and nationally—much more is needed.”
Photo caption: Jeanne and her husband, Ed, pledged $2 million to the Center for Nursing Innovation. Photo: Mody Botros.
“Believe is a powerful word. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams and all the possibilities they hold. Believe in causes and missions that are bigger than you. Because I believe in Saint Joseph’s College and its mission, I decided, along with my husband, Ed, to pledge a leadership gift of $2 million dollars to this Campaign to Create the Center for Nursing Innovation at Saint Joseph’s College. Today, Ed and I are thankful to be able to support the Center for Nursing Innovation and Saint Joseph’s College because we believe. Please join us, stay involved, believe in your alma mater … and believe in your dreams,” said Arnold, the retired Senior Vice President of Good Samaritan Hospital, at the 2017 Commencement.
In January, when the Harold Alfond Foundation announced its lead, a challenge grant of $1.5 million to support Saint Joseph’s College’s ambitious plan for a Center for Nursing Innovation, Arnold agreed to serve as campaign chair and lead the effort to raise $3.5 million in matching funds.