Sister Patrice retires after five decades of service to hospitals
Sister Patrice Kiefer was drawn to the role of human resources director at Douglas County Hospital (DCH) because of her love of working with people.
It has been that same love that has kept Sister Patrice in a vital role at DCH, and in the region, caring for staff and patients on a daily basis.
She is retiring this winter after more than 53 years of service to the community.
HOW IT BEGAN
After six years as the assistant administrator at St. Anthony Hospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Sister Patrice began her career in Alexandria as the administrator of Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in 1960. Having two hospitals in a fairly small community created competition for patients, physicians and staff that was a detriment to both.
After many discussions and hours of debate, in December 1969 the merger of DCH and Our Lady of Mercy Hospital was signed. Sister Patrice believes the merger was a "gift from God," creating a single, thriving healthcare community.
The merger took nearly three years to complete, during which time Sister Patrice worked as the assistant administrator at DCH from 1969 until 1973 when DCH hired Bill Flaig as assistant administrator. Ten years later, Flaig was named administrator.
CARING FOR PEOPLE
Flaig recalled his first day as assistant administrator for DCH in 1973: "She was the first one to welcome me in the lobby. She was so welcoming, right from the start."
This quality - a deep interest in people and caring for them - has been at the center of Sister Patrice's career. As a Franciscan nun, Sister Patrice made a commitment very early on to live a life of service, and she has been happily able to live that commitment to service for more than 59 years through her administration roles at three hospitals.
As the human resources director at DCH, Sister Patrice was "the heart of the hospital," according to Flaig. During his years as administrator, he often turned to Sister Patrice for advice. "She was always concerned about the people," said Flaig. "As the administrator, I worried about everything else, but she brought the human element."
As HR director, she was integral in all aspects of hospital hiring and staff management, and was even involved in labor relations.
WHAT SHE ENJOYED THE MOST
What Sister Patrice has enjoyed most over her decades of service, however, has been working with DCH employees.
"I loved working with the staff at DCH," she said. "They were wonderful to work with. And I enjoyed offering a good service to the patients as part of the team there."
Considering all the years that she's been at DCH, the area's largest employer, it's hard to imagine how many members of the community Sister Patrice has affected.
According to Flaig, "She touched the lives of everyone who worked there. She knew everyone's name, and was always there if they needed her."
Looking forward, Sister Patrice hopes to spend more time with her relatives and close friends.
Still, you might see her in the halls of DCH or the Alexandria Clinic. "Carl [Vaagenes, the current hospital administrator] has generously invited me to come back and volunteer," said Sister Patrice, who added that she wanted to "thank the many people who have come into my life, for their friendship and support through good and difficult times."
According to hospital leaders, that feeling of gratitude is mutual, and multiplied many times throughout the community.