By Emily Gresham Wherle
Her story starts with a little bit of moonlighting.
It was 1989—coincidentially the last year the television show “Moonlighting,” starring Cybill Shephard and Bruce Willis was on air.
Jennifer Hunter—Jennifer Robinson at the time—was working as a labor and delivery nurse at St. Luke Hospital in Fort Thomas. “I had the least amount of seniority; I wasn’t married and I didn’t have kids, so I ended up with the least desirable shifts—rotating and nights.”
Evie VanHerpe, then manager of the Campbell County Health Center, was moonlighting on weekends in the nursery. Evie told Jennifer about an opening for a Registered Nurse at the Health Department with some attractive hours—Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Twenty-eight and a half years later, Jennifer is retiring this month as Director of Clinical Services. “I just wanted to work regular hours!” she said. “But now, I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
During her tenure with the Health Department, Jennifer’s certainly had many opportunities to take on leadership roles and expand her skills in nursing.
Her early years at Campbell County Health Center opened her eyes to the important work of public health nurses. Jennifer not only learned everything she could about the various programs—prenatal, well child, immunizations and sexually transmitted diseases—but she also began to appreciate the problems that many Health Department clients faced.
“I’d grown up with a middle class, suburban background,” Jennifer said. “My work at the Health Department really opened up my eyes. At first, I thought that if I just provided clients with information and education, they could make healthy decisions, but then I began to realize that it isn’t so easy—that poverty and social determinants of health all come into play.”
While working at Campbell County, Jennifer went back to school nights and weekends and earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
In 1992, the Health Department underwent a re-organization after it became an independent district, and staff were reassigned.
Jennifer went into a meeting with Judy Insko, the Director of Nursing at the time, thinking she was going to be let go. Instead, she was offered a promotion, to be manager of the clinic at 912 Scott St. in Covington.
“I was blown away,” Jennifer said. “I didn’t know that the managers within Clinical Services knew my name at the time, much less that they thought I was worthy of a position as a manager.”
For five years, Jennifer ran the 912 Scott clinic, overseeing STDs, family planning and tuberculosis for all four counties. When that site was closed in 1997, Jennifer was made manager of the combined team from Dressman/Kenton County Health Center and 912 Scott.
By the early 2000s, Jennifer had started her family, and her daughter Brennah was having health problems. Jennifer was ready to resign from the Health Department to care for her daughter, but agency leadership once again offered her another path–a part-time position developing a quality assurance program for Clinical Services.
After a year of work in quality assurance, Brennah’s health issues were under control and Jennifer had her second daughter, Laurel. Her first day back from maternity leave was Sept. 11, 2001. The events of that day and the resulting role of public health in emergencies provided another responsibility—developing disaster plans—and made Jennifer’s position full-time. It was a good fit, as Jennifer had her first disaster response experience in 1997 during the flooding in Falmouth, Ky., and was deployed to Ocean Springs, Miss., to work in a medical shelter following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
As the Clinical Services division changed and management roles developed, Jennifer took on various leadership responsibilities, finally becoming Director of Clinical Services in 2007.
“I’m not sure that I ever aspired to the position of Director,” Jennifer said, “But different leadership opportunities kept coming up.”
Jennifer has led the Clinical division, the largest in the agency with more than 80 employees, through the H1N1 swine flu response, changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act, and more recently, the heroin response.
She credits her staff for successes achieved during that time. “As Director, you never function alone. You never operate in a silo. Because of my team, I am able to do my job the best that I can. I attribute my success to their success.”
Now, she’s ready for something different—though what that something is, Jennifer’s not yet sure. She plans to spend the summer with her two daughters and then figure out her what’s next come fall.
Thank you, Jennifer, for your years of service and leadership, and best wishes for your retirement!