An empty to-go container sits near Ramona Jackson’s desk in the prenatal diagnosis clinic at IU Health University Hospital. It was once filled with homemade chicken and noodles for one of Jackson’s co-workers.
The container says a lot about who Jackson is. She’s not only a caregiver for her patients, but for others she comes into contact with at work, church, and home.
An eastside native and graduate of Arsenal Technical High School, Jackson started working at IU Health 16 years ago – first at the Coleman Center for Women and then in the prenatal clinic. She estimates she’s worked with more than a dozen physicians over the years and some of the most recognizable names in women’s health - Doctors Mary Abernathy, Frank Schubert, and Anthony Shanks – just to name a few. Many of the patients have come through the doors during the most vulnerable times of their lives, experiencing high-risk pregnancies, gynecological cancer and drug addition.
Married 33 years to William Jackson, the 60-year-old mother of three, grandmother to nine, and great-grandmother to five is often one of the first medical team members to meet the patients.
“I’m very motherly. I talk to everyone who comes through the door. I hug everyone and some I kiss on the jaw,” says Jackson. “When they come in the room for their blood pressure they get tense and don’t want to talk. I say ‘we are here to help you and assist you. We are not here to judge you.’”
She has seen a lot during her years at the clinic – many patients going through crisis or unplanned pregnancies and trying to find their way as new mothers.
“We just had a patient come back recently who had been here several years ago. She remembered me. She’s always thinking something bad is going to happened to her baby,” said Jackson. “I tell her ‘it’s going to be ok. God has your back.’”
One of the toughest things for Jackson is that she doesn’t always get to follow up with the patients. After she sees them through pre-natal care, they typically deliver at Methodist Hospital and continue their care through another medical office. But sometimes the staff members at the pre-natal clinic get an idea and they look to Jackson to carry it through.
The idea usually involves food and hospitality.
Baskets filled with back-to-school supplies or baby necessities delivered to new moms is just one of the many ways the staff members stay connected to their patients. Last year they fed lunch to families at Riley Hospital – a meal that included Jackson’s famous chicken and noodles, green beans, rolls, and desserts. She’s’ also known for her baked spaghetti.
“I wouldn’t say I am large and in charge but I have a go-to spirit,” said Jackson who stands at 5’6” and is affectionately called “Boo” by her co-workers. “People know they can count on me. We all work together. Some bring donations; others give money.”
That same go-to spirit has earned her the title of “President” by her family members. She organizes bake sales to help fund her grandchildren’s sports uniforms, and is often sitting in the stands cheering at track meets and volleyball games. Her signature bake sale items are lemon and chocolate cakes.
And holidays and family reunions usually find Jackson in the executive seat. The oldest of four, she is most likely the one organizing the meals. When she’s not spending time with family, Jackson is busy with her church Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist where she has worked on the culinary committee planning pastor anniversary meals, funeral dinners, and anything else that happens in the kitchen.
Like her career choice, cooking came later in life. As for her job – she wanted to be a teacher because she enjoyed helping younger ones with their homework. But when her baby sister got sick with lupus, she started considering a career in the medical field. Her first job was a Mapleton Nursing Home where a manager encouraged her to go to school to become a medical assistant.
She didn’t know it at the time but the first job she applied for at IU Health was in the same unit where her sister had died of renal failure. She knew she couldn’t take the job so she continued to apply until she found the right fit.
“Over the years I’ve seen a lot and I always tell patients that this is the best place to come to if you have something going on with you or your baby,” said Jackson. “I make a point not to focus on what could be wrong with their baby, but to focus on them and helping them stay healthy.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.