Elaine Naegele has tried everything to learn Spanish.
“I took Spanish in high school, and periodically throughout my life I’ve tried to learn it in other ways. One was even in rap music. I didn’t learn a thing,” she laughed. “I’ve been trying and I thought, ‘Total emersion is the only way.’”
As the new practice leader at Saint Mary’s Health Center’s Clinica Santa Maria, Naegele is finally learning to speak Spanish. The clinic, located at 730 Grandville Ave. SW, provides primary health care to the Hispanic community’s homeless, underserved and working poor.
Naegele took on her new role in January, after more than 20 years of health care experience.
The 1981 Central Michigan University grad began her career at Borgess Medical Center in Kalamazoo as an intern in cardiac rehab with roots in exercise physiology. She spent the next eight years at Borgess, moving through managing, surgical services and heart services.
Naegel had majored in health and fitness programming with a minor in economics, and in 1983, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in exercise science at Western Michigan University, which she received in 1985.
She stayed at Borgess until 1989, and then did a brief stint at the Heart Institute of Michigan as program coordinator. Then, in 1990, her husband, a long-time employee of Eaton Corp., was transferred to Portland, Ore. For the next 10 years, Naegel worked for the Providence Health System in a plethora of roles.
She also worked on a second master’s degree, in health policy administration at Washington State University. When her husband was transferred back to West Michigan in 2000, Naegel finished her final six credits at Western Michigan and then flew back to present her master’s essay at Washington State.
“I thought, ‘Oh, I’m so close; I can’t not do it,’” she said. “That would be terrible to go through all that and not say you got the degree.”
Once back in West Michigan, Naegele spent a few years at a couple different hospitals before working as an instructor at University of Phoenix’s West Michigan campus from 2003 to 2007. “I had heard about University of Phoenix and thought it would be a good skill — to learn to be a better teacher, a better facilitator,” said Naegele.
Her next job brought her back to Borgess in 2004; she was administrative director of Borgess Women’s Health when she left in 2008 to come to Clinica Santa Maria.
“What they were looking for was hiring someone who’s interested in operations, process improvement — and that is my passion. I’m in my element when I’m doing that. I love health care. It’s very dynamic and ever-changing, and it can be fun.” — Jake Himmelspach