Jean Anderson is affectionately known as "mother" at the senior living residence Arcadia, where she has played an integral role in developing clinical programs since 1974.
Anderson — who became Hawaii’s first geriatric nurse practitioner in 1983 — has mentored hundreds of staffers over nearly four decades at the retirement home on Punahou Street and is still improving clinical programs by keeping abreast of the latest and best practices in medicine.
The Indian-born Hawaii resident, distinctly recognized for her refined British accent, has pared down her work hours to twice a week but is still contributing as much as she did more than 30 years ago.
"She remains at the top of her game, people respect her and there’s just no difference from 30 years ago to now," said Karen Thorp, Arcadia’s health care administrator. "She’s still as sharp and contributing to our operation and life in general."
While Anderson’s staff lovingly refer to her as "mother," many of the approximately 300 senior residents see her as someone they’ve come to trust each year to determine the level of care they need.
Anderson, who’s mum about her age, developed Arcadia’s first "functional assessment" after the state began licensing assisted-living facilities in 1999 and has been the "primary foundation builder" at Arcadia, its affiliate 15 Craigside and its other day and community-based programs and home health care, said Emmet White, Arcadia CEO and president.
"I would trust my life with her," White said. "Her spirit pervades the quality that we try to reach every day. She taught all of us. She helped develop the foundation of care that we give."
Besides mentoring the staff, Anderson is best known for her compassion and tenacity. "She patiently and lovingly takes care of the residents. We’re very blessed to have her," Thorp said. "Staff members often come to her with their concerns, and she’s able to help problem-solve. She has a genuine interest in you as a human being."
Anderson started as a charge nurse at Arcadia after moving here from California with her husband, an Air Force officer assigned to Hickam. The couple met in India, where Anderson’s future husband was working as an airline pilot. They raised three children.
Seeking more knowledge in her field, Anderson took a leave of absence to study at the University of Colorado in 1982 to become a geriatric nurse practitioner — able to prescribe medications and conduct comprehensive health assessments. She later helped recruit other Honolulu nurses to the specialized program to help improve the quality of care in the state’s nursing homes. The University of Hawaii at the time had no nurse practitioner program offering advanced training.
"It was a new field then. This is before the time we even had geriatricians (physicians who specialize in geriatrics)," said Anderson, who attended a private Catholic boarding school in the Himalayas as a child. "Since I was working at Arcadia, my patient population was geriatric, so that’s why I was interested in it."
Anderson said she is blessed to have her health. She keeps her mind busy by staying current with developments in medicine. She’s had to keep up with a fast-paced profession that changes each year with new nursing home regulations and technology.
"I feel like I’m still contributing something to society. I also have some satisfaction in being able to do a service that’s very needed," she said.
"I love my work, I love the contact I have with my residents and I love the job because I learn. I’m right at the cutting edge of all the medical fields in my profession. I feel like I’m contributing something; (with) my expertise, I’m making a difference."