Jenny Bono: Appreciating area’s strong sense of community 

Published 5:30 am Friday, May 20, 2022

Jenny Bono has used her career as an accountant to make sure that residents in largely rural communities have access to quality health care.

A native of Cameron Parish, Bono recently became the chief financial officer of Imperial Health, where she oversees the financial operations and accounting.

“The biggest thing is being able to help people,” she said.

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Bono graduated from South Cameron High School and earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting in 2004 and a master’s in business administration in 2013. After college, she worked for several companies and quickly found her calling in the area of health care accounting.

“You wouldn’t think hospital and health care is fast paced, but it is ever changing,” she said. “There’s always operational improvement and new policies being put in place. It’s exciting to be part of positive change.”

Bono served as the chief financial officer for various health care agencies over the years, even commuting for a job based in Lafayette. She eventually returned to working in Lake Charles and became the chief financial officer for Jennings American Legion Hospital. She spent her time there expanding rural health clinics and managing a proposal to merge the organization with a larger health system.

Bono said she has a passion for providing services for smaller communities whose residents may lack the means to travel elsewhere for adequate health care.

“Some people go years without seeing a physician,” she said. “When I got to Jennings, I saw it the most. There were patients who hadn’t been on needed medications for years. We worked with the providers to set patients with a routine level of care. It’s very rewarding when you see patients who are thankful for their physician or nurse practitioner following up with them or making house calls.”

Bono became certified in 2019 to open rural health clinics. Last December, she was named Rural Health Professional of the Year from the Louisiana Rural Health Association.

Bono saw how natural disasters, dating back to Hurricane Rita in 2005, changed the landscape of the place she once called home. Hurricanes Laura and Delta dealt another blow to the already fragile Cameron Parish in 2020.

“I can still picture all the houses and festivals, people’s careers thriving and just the southern culture,” she said. “When you look back now, there’s just nothing there. It’s hard for my sons to understand when my feelings come into play when I’m driving through there. It’s sad to think about everything you knew as a child being gone.”

Bono’s parents, Kirk and Julie Burleigh, recently sold their property in Cameron and are planning a move to central Texas, right outside what Kirk described as “hurricane alley.” Kirk served two terms on the Cameron Parish Police Jury after Hurricane Rita. Hurricane Laura left their home completely destroyed.

Bono said she rode out Hurricane Laura at Jennings American Legion Hospital. The hospital faired its own stress during the storm, but the team handled the situation well.  She drove back to Lake Charles the morning after the storm to check on her parents, who, along with four dogs, rode out the storm at her home in a closet.

“That’s why I came back so fast,” she said. “Driving through town, we had to divert so many times. When asking my parents how it was, they said they would not do that again.”

Bono’s home she shares with her husband, Steven, was damaged by Hurricanes Laura and Delta, but it wasn’t severe enough to render the house unlivable. Kirk and Julie ended up living in a spare bedroom until Cameron opened for residents to return months later.

After the hurricane, Bono said it was important for her sons, Trenton and Brody, to return to in-person classes. For his senior year, Trenton transferred from A.M. Barbe High School to Kinder High School, where he also had an opportunity to finish his senior year playing football. A camper was placed on her friend’s property in Kinder, where they stayed while repairs were made to the Lake Charles home. Meanwhile, three fellow Barbe students and teammates of Trenton’s whose families were displaced ended up staying with them in Kinder. Many other students transferred to the Allen Parish School System, who graciously offered stability to these students.

“It was very cramped and a little chaotic, but we wanted him to stick together with his teammates and friends,” she said. “We are forever grateful to the Kinder community and teachers.

Bono said she appreciates the strong sense of community in Southwest Louisiana. She said that was on full display after Hurricanes Laura and Delta.

“I’ve traveled a lot for work, and I haven’t found that anywhere else,” she said. “People look out for each other and try to help their neighbor. They’re all supportive of each other especially after such a disaster.”