SOUTH PORTLAND – Jane Cleaves can remember when nurses didn’t speak directly to doctors and were supposed to stand when a doctor entered the room.

Now, 44 years into a nursing career focused mostly on bedside care for cardiac patients, Cleaves is a respected part of the medical team and has helped develop patient services and hospital policy at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

“We’ve come a long way,” she said.

Cleaves was one of 11 “Health Care Heroes” honored during a luncheon at the Wyndham Airport Hotel Thursday. The event was sponsored by MaineToday Media and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care to highlight the quality of the state’s medical community.

The 11 heroes were nominated by the community and included nurses, physicians, teachers, researchers and volunteers from southern and central Maine.

Cleaves was doubly honored. She was selected as one of the 11 heroes and also named the winner of the People’s Choice Award based on ballots cast during a Health Care Expo on Sunday.

About 1,200 people attended the expo, and 150 attended the luncheon Thursday to recognize the heroes, said Adrienne Dodge, director of marketing and new business for MaineToday Media.

Cleaves said she was surprised by the recognition and gratified about the role she and other nurses play in health care. “I’ve had a fabulous career,” she said.

Cleaves, who lives in North Yarmouth, started working at Maine Medical Center 32 years ago. She helped start the hospital’s oncology unit, medical telemetry unit and angioplasty program; participated in a safe patient and family-centered care task force; helped develop nursing policies and compensation; and conducted research to improve communication between health care providers and their patients.

Cleaves has been a nursing manager but now works directly with patients and families. “I finally said, ‘Enough of this. I want to go back to the bedside,’” she said.

Like many of the honorees, Cleaves also volunteers her own time to improve health and health care. Among other things, she is on the local board of the American Heart Association, helped start the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital Open golf tournament and volunteers in the medical tent at the Beach to Beacon road race.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

[email protected]

Correction: The photo caption with this story was revised at 10:40 a.m., Nov. 21, 2011, to correct the job title of Catherine Lorello-Snow. She is program director of Spurwink’s Portland Help Center.