Jeny Ramos Bissell
Lucy Peros | All photos courtesy Jeny Bissell
This month’s Sakada Offspring, Jeny Ramos Bissell has a special motto to live by “Let life live for you in kindness for life is short-lived.” Jeny believes this motto resonates to her sincerest gratitude to her grandfather Juan Ganal Ramos (a 1926 Sakada who worked on Kaua‘i for a short time and returned to the Philippines), her Uncle Gavino Ramirez Ramos (a 1946 Sakada) and all the other Sakadas who came to Hawai‘i to seek better opportunities for themselves and for their families.
“I want people to remember me as an opportunist as well,” says Jeny. “Like this virus, I don’t discriminate, and I take every opportunity that comes my way with tender loving care, of course. There is no tender loving care in COVID-19.” As a public health nurse, Jeny is currently involved with the State Department of Health’s response to COVID-19.
Jeny was born in Manila, Philippines. She attended part of her elementary schooling in the Philippines before coming to Hawai‘i in 1971. She continued at Kamehameha III Elementary then on to Lahainaluna High School from 1974–1978. From 1978–1980, she attended the University of San Francisco (USF) School of Business and from 1980–1984, she attended the USF School of Nursing where she received her Bachelor of Science Nursing Degree. She is currently enrolled with the California Inter Continental University in Doctor of Business Administration in Healthcare Management. Before Jeny decided to go into nursing, there were three women nurses who mentored and inspired her to be the nurse she is today. These women were her Aunts who came to the United States in the 1960s under a work visa and as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965: Angelita Coloma Marcajida, Valentina Rivac and Teodicia Rivac Dadiz, who are now enjoying their retirement in California.
Jeny is married to Michael Alexander De Guzman Bissell, a Project Manager with Arisumi Brothers, Inc. They have three children: Glen John Michael, Sean Robert, and Jacqueline Micaela and two grandchildren Zayden Kai and Izaiah Koa Bissell. Glen is a Logistics Coordinator with Amazon while his wife Michelle is an Assistant Creative Workflow Manager with Old Republic Title Company. Sean is a Landscaper with Sonny’s Landscape Maintenance and Jacqueline is a nurse.
When asked what accomplishment she is most proud of, Jeny responded: “My children and grandchildren. I think I did pretty good. Whose biggest fan, am I? My daughter who is also an R.N. She calls me Nurse Queen. She says to me and everyone else that I am her favorite person in the entire universe. We share many stories and we support each other especially now in this pandemic. We cry, we laugh, we get angry about our experiences as front line nurses. We probably can write a book or novels about my 30 plus years in the healthcare industry and she as a new Nurse.”
Jeny’s father Ricardo Ramirez Ramos arrived in Hawai‘i in 1967. He was petitioned by his brother Gavino Ramos. Jeny’s mom Encarnacion arrived in 1976.
Ricardo Ramos worked as a carpenter for three companies, Pacific Construction, Hawaiian Dredging Construction, and Ramos Builders, LLC, owned by his brother Gavino. Ramos Builders built many residential homes for their families, friends and others. The Ramoses were exceptionally talented business-minded carpenters and contractors, building their own and their families’ homes as well as for investment purposes.
“Uncle Gavino was a loving non-judgmental person,” said Jeny. “He was well-liked by everyone who knew him even with other ethnic groups. He was a hard worker, a great role model for everyone. He was instrumental in petitioning his siblings to come to Hawai‘i, that’s including my family. We wouldn’t be here today if it was not for Uncle Gavino. He was a very generous person with his time, talents, and treasures. He helped all of us build our homes. Uncle Gavino’s advice to all of us was: ‘I don’t expect anything from you in return, however, I would like you to give the same gift and kindness to your children, families and community. Help anyone who needs your help.’” Jeny has always taken her Uncle’s advice to heart.
Jeny’s dad also has a favorite saying: Ti lagip iti napalabas nga ayan-ayat ken iti amin a panawen awanan ressat. (The remembrance of a love past in all time and forever it shall last.)
Jeny’s mother, Encarnacion worked as a Housekeeper/Lobby Porter and retired from the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa. “She was my biggest fan,” says Jeny of her Mom who passed away last year. “Nang was strong, beautiful and selfless human being. She loved life!”
Jeny was with her Mom when the funniest thing happened to Jeny in San Francisco. “My Nang and I went to my tenant’s house to water the plants. I parked on the driveway and started watering the plants in the backyard. I took some pictures to show my tenant she really needs to hire someone to take care of her yard on a regular basis. I also took pictures of my Nang watering the plants. I went back to our car to pick up our bags for safety. Two SFPD cars parked on the road and one of the officers gestured with one hand on his gun holster and said, ‘Come here, come here, sit here on the pavement.’ I asked him why are they here.
He responded, ‘What are you doing here?’ I said, ‘My tenant on Maui asked us to water the plants.’ He said, ‘Who else is with you?’ I said, ‘My mother who is in the back watering.’ The other officer proceeded to the back yard and I told that officer to be sensitive and nice as she is an elderly and she doesn’t speak English well. The interview continued and this time an unmarked car arrived and interviewed me asking the same questions three times. I answered and showed the texts from my tenant. He said he will keep my phone for now. And I said, okay. My Nang came out from the backyard and said in a loud voice, broken English, ‘That is my daughter and this is her tenant’s house.’ Then the neighbor came out. I left the police officer and introduced myself to the neighbor. He looked a little confused but we shook hands and greeted each other. The detective called me back to continue the interview. In the meantime, I told my Nang and the officer to please have my Nang sit on the covered porch since it is hot and she is on cancer treatment. Then a man came out of my tenant’s house. I heard that he was the one who reported us to SFPD and that he happens to be a Police rookie from another county. Then, I was puzzled or confused and don’t remember my tenant saying anything about having someone staying at her house. I asked the detective for my phone, called my tenant but no answer. I read her text and the driving directions again. And I thought I was going to have a heart attack. We were in the wrong house! I was so embarrassed, I apologized, and my Nang was laughing so hard. The officer gave me directions to my tenant’s house, we got into the car, I asked the officers if they wanted to escort us to make sure we get to the right house. They declined. We got to the right house, watered the plants, met my tenant’s neighbor, the right neighbor…and told him what happened. We laughed, took pictures and my Nang and I went to our favorite restaurant in Half Moon Bay. That was the most embarrassing moment in my life.
I was also worried about the story reaching my friends at the Maui Police Dept. What will they say, what will they think? But then again, they will probably say, that’s Jeny for you and will have a big laugh.”
Jeny gives thanks to her family and friends for their support and for being the pillars in her crazy life. “I guess you have to be resilient and crazy to be in this profession.”
Jenny’s five siblings are Nick Gazzingan Ramos, a maintenance supervisor at the Kā‘anapali Maui at the Eldorado, who is married to Araceli Ramos, a housewife; Armand Gazzingan Ramos, a night auditor at Ruby & Sons Hospitality, LLC.; Aurea Cortez Ramos, a banking representative at Bank of Hawai‘i; Mhel Ramos Vieth, an interior designer at Design Line Studio, whose husband Mark Vieth is the Lahaina News editor; Rick Gazzingan Ramos, Jr., a mechanic at the Grand Wailea Maui; and Virgie Ramos Choy, a nurse at Straub Medical Center, whose husband Rodney Choy is a nurse at Queens Medical Center.
Jeny has a very rich work experience. She has worked at Ralph K. Davies Medical Center in San Francisco (July–Sept. 1984); Professional Bureau in San Francisco (Sept. 1984–Jan. 1986); Veterans Administration Medical Center (Feb.–May 1986); St. Francis Memorial Medical Center in San Francisco (May 1986–1987); and Maui Memorial Medical Center (Aug. 1987–Dec. 1989).
For over thirty years, Jeny has been with the State Department of Health. Currently, she is the Family Health Services Division Administrator for the State of Hawai‘i Department of Health in the tri-islands of Maui County where her responsibilities include administrative supervision of 12.5 FTE staff and maternal and child health programs in Maui County; budgetary expenditures for the Maui District Family Health Services; and planning and organizing services to meet the needs of the family and maternal child health population for Maui County. Jeny is also the immediate past Co-chair of the Prevent Suicide Maui County Task Force.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Jeny is in the midst of the State’s response team. “I have been repurposed as many of my nursing colleagues across the globe,” she says. “I am a core team member of the State of Hawai‘i Dept of Health COVID-19 Case and Contact Investigation. We are like forensic detectives or forensic science technicians going ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ of the infectious disease. We are collecting demographic data, behavioral actions, people’s activities, etc. and use scientific methods such as laboratory and clinical symptoms of our client to mitigate and slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in our state. We input this information in a national database system called Maven Surveillance and Disease Outbreak Management System, a repository of information. For the most part, my COVID clients are cooperative and pleasant but there are moments when I feel like ‘throwing the towel’ and say ‘nuff already.’ I’ve cried, laughed, smiled, lots of sleepless/disruptive sleep, eating, and excretion patterns, not necessary in that order. My biological clock is out of whack. My friends and family often remind me to pace myself and self-care. I am thankful that we at DOH and our community partners are incredibly supportive of one another.”
Jeny describes how she has evolved. “I used to not want to share my knowledge or be very protective and afraid that people will steal my ideas and profit from it. Their gain, my loss mentality. But over the years, I guess I am more matured now that I now do not have a problem and in fact love sharing my toolbox with others. I am also very transparent. I’m not afraid to tell people that I made mistakes and I don’t have all of the answers but I will try and find the answer.” She recognizes how folks want to know. “In this pandemic and any other past disease outbreak I’ve been a part of since the ’80s (HIV epidemic while working in San Francisco as a new Nurse) the public has been very demanding about their request for information. They need to understand that we have privacy laws, code of ethics, nurse-patient privilege, that we must follow. I can’t even share specifics to my immediate family. We are asking for their trust, patience and confidence in this pandemic. And most of all, to do their part. Together in unity and solidarity, and I will quote my former boss (he was my boss at Lahaina McDonald’s in the early ’70s) our beloved and honorable Mayor Michael Victorino, ‘We will come out better than we came in.’”
Jeny is a well-connected and an active member of the community, especially in the Filipino community. She serves on more than 25 Coalition/Ad Hoc Committees at the local, state and national level. Her greatest passion is to advocate for the health and wellness of Hawai‘i’s people especially those who are not able to speak for themselves or challenged by the overly complex system of care. She has been described as the go-to person because of having a such a strong pulse, care, compassion and deep connection to her community.
Jeny enjoys participating in activities that her family/children are involved in. She enjoys dancing, hiking and singing especially with families and friends.
Although Jeny is a very busy person, she still finds time to serve the church and the community. She is the 2020–2022 President of St. Theresa Catholic Club of Maui Council of Filipino Catholic Clubs. She is also a member of the St. Theresa Roman Catholic Church Pastoral Council and the Secretary of the Philippines Nurses Association of America – Maui Chapter.
Jeny’s version of the Golden Rule is the “6 Cs, Care, Compassion, Communication, Courage, Commitment, Competence. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat other people with concern and kindness you would like them to show toward you.” Jeny’s deep religious beliefs are embodied in her life: “God is present in all of us and in our actions. We must help God take care of ourselves, one another and our community. Blessed for the time, treasure and talent I have. Continue to inspire our children and youth to live life to the fullest with gratitude, humility, perseverance, pursue higher education and give their time, treasure and talent to God and their community. Tough times don’t last; but tough people do. The challenge for each person facing life’s situations the rare opportunity to test one’s flexibility, adaptability, and resiliency to not only survive the changes but to flourish personally and professionally from them.”
For Jeny, the journey of life continues.
Lucy Peros is a retired school teacher, having taught at St. Anthony Grade School and Waihe‘e Elementary School. Both of her parents, Elpidio Cachero Cabalo (a 1946 Sakada) and Alejandra Cabudoy Cabalo of Hāli‘imaile worked for Maui Land and Pine Company. Lucy now enjoys retirement and has time to join other seniors in the Enhance Fitness Program under the Department of Aging three times a week. She also attends the line dancing class and other activities at Kaunoa and joins other Waihe‘e School retirees when help is needed at the school. Lucy also devotes some of her time to activities at Christ The King Catholic Church. She enjoys writing and reading in her spare time.