Mother-daughter duo at St. Rita’s lean on one another

LIMA — Jill Jacobs was nine months pregnant when she assisted with the first open-heart surgery at Mercy Health-St. Rita’s Medical Center.

Twenty-five years later, her daughter Madison is caring for heart patients in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

The mother-daughter duo — one in administration, the other in nursing — regularly confide in one another, at times swapping their mother-daughter roles to comfort and guide one another through challenging times in their careers.

“She’s heard me say many times: Just do what’s best for you. Do what makes you happy,” said Jill Jacobs, chief operating officer for Mercy Health-Lima.

For Madison, that means taking care of the sickest patients in the ICU, where she comforts people on their worst days. And at times, that means comforting her own mother, who took over as the health system’s chief operating officer in January 2020, months before a pandemic upended operations at the health system.

The new job was overwhelming in its own right, but now Jill worried that her daughter was being exposed to a disease her colleagues knew little about.

Then there was the added stress of wondering what Madison would witness in the ICU, which was so overwhelmed by severely ill patients at the pandemic’s peak that the hospital had to operate four of them. Jill even worked a few night shifts on the floor herself.

“She took it some days harder than I did,” Madison said, “because I knew from my side of things during all of that it’s just, it’s what we had to do.”

But as a mother, Jill “felt completely helpless,” she said, “because I’m worried about my daughter, who’s my baby.”

Jill started her nursing career in oncology, but after caring for a sick uncle she decided to work in the operating room instead. “I needed somewhere where it’s a happy place,” she said. “So I thought OK, in the O.R. you fix people. You go in, you fix the problem and you move on.”

But the O.R. meant working on call, which meant leaving Madison at home anytime a heart patient went into surgery, so Jill eventually accepted a role in administration overseeing physician practices.

“She saw how much time I had invested and how committed I was to my role in nursing,” Jill said. Still, Jill always encouraged Madison “to do what would make me happiest,” Madison said.