It’s easy to take for granted having access to state-of-the-art medical care locally, but the local health care community might not look the same if not for Sister Jacquetta Taylor.
Story by Dick Baltus
It took some special vision to be able to look out over an orchard and grazing land 40-plus years ago and see a brand-new hospital rising from it. Sister Jacquetta Taylor saw it. The man standing next to her, Tony Haber, saw trees and grass.
Haber was interviewing with Taylor for a job managing the Mercy Hospital physical plant. At that time there was just that one facility to manage, but Taylor had bigger plans.
In 1969, she had been sent to Roseburg by the Sisters of Mercy to close the hospital they’d built 60 years earlier along the South Umpqua River (now the headquarters of ADAPT). Douglas Community Hospital had opened in the 1950s just a few blocks away and was taking market share at Mercy’s expense.
Taylor’s intent was to execute a sale of Mercy to Douglas, then be on her way. But the board and executive team at Douglas refused her offer to sell Mercy for $250,000, assuming the hospital would close and they could pick up the pieces for pennies on the dollars.
So Taylor decided to stay and fight. A few years later, she was taking her future facilities manager on what today seems like a short road trip from southern Roseburg to the city’s northern end. But in the early '70s, and to Haber, it might as well have been Eugene.
“Jacquetta took me out to the boonies and pointed down to that orchard and said, ‘That’s where I’m building my new hospital,’” Haber remembers. “I thought to myself, Is this woman crazy? Who’s going to come to a hospital way out here?”
In 1977, the doors of Mercy’s modern new health care facility opened with great fanfare. Taylor used her significant powers of persuasion to lure entertainer Arthur Godfrey to the celebration then, legend has it, drove him around Roseburg, afterward looking for a restaurant that could satisfy his craving for oysters.
(Her first choice, Bing Crosby, was already committed to a USO engagement, but called her personally to deliver the news that he couldn't attend.)
During her 27 years as Mercy’s leader, Taylor shepherded the medical center through remarkable growth and significant challenges. Rarely, if ever, was her job easy. But that never changed the person she was.
“She was unfailingly kind,” physician assistant Cynthia Keys said in a tribute video produced in 2014 when Taylor, now 85 and living with Alzheimer’s disease, left Roseburg to return to a Sisters of Mercy care facility in Omaha. “She was helpful to everyone she knew. She had a real joy in life and always looked for the bright side even in some difficult times.”
Taylor’s priorities were Mercy patients and her staff. Like a physician, she would round daily to check on patients, a rarity for a hospital administrator. And to her, staff were family.
“Jacquetta’s mantra to staff was, make all your decisions from the patient’s pillow,” said close friend Verniece Paterson.
Longtime Roseburg cardiologist, Dr. Cynthia Kremser, remembers telling Paterson the story of an employee, who had just drawn a blood sample, asking her if it was OK to bring the patient crab to eat. Based on her experience at another hospital, Kremser couldn’t believe an employee would take such interest in meeting a patient’s personal needs:
“Verniece said, ‘Well that’s because of the way Jacquetta’s spirit trickles down through the organization. She treated her administrative team with respect and expected them to treat their staff that way and them to treat patients and physicians that way.’ That was the first time I’d seen trickle-down work.”
Taylor retired in 1996 and spent her final few years in Roseburg rooming with Lisa Platt, president of Mercy Foundation. They met in 2004 and became instant friends.
“When I met her I had no idea she was a nun,” Platt said. “She was wearing blue jeans and a sweatshirt and had her little bowl haircut. She lived a very simple life, but she loved this community and she loved her patients.”
Taylor was as funny as she was kind. Platt recalled the time the two of them tried to fix a leaking toilet by pulling it off the floor — before turning the water off. “Water was shooting everywhere, and we couldn’t stop laughing,” Platt said. “It was definitely our Lucy and Ethel moment.”
Taylor’s many achievements at Mercy include installing the first CT scanner in an Oregon hospital; creating the state’s first hospital-based ambulance service; bringing dialysis services to Douglas County and opening Linus Oakes Retirement Center, among countless other accomplishments.
But even more than the sprawling, state-of-the-art medical center that Mercy has become, Taylor’s most enduring legacy will be the thousands of Douglas County lives that have been improved because she could see the future of health care in Douglas County where others could only see trees.