Agnes C. Poore and her friend Lynette Jaramillo still had day jobs at a home healthcare business when they decided to open up their own hospice company, so they spent a lot of weekends and evenings working. It was at the end of one of these long nights that Poore came home to the two youngest of her three children, about 10 and 14 at the time, waiting for her with their hands on their hips.
“Mom,” they said. “We don’t think this ‘hospice’ thing you’re planning with Lynette is a good idea.”
She asked them why.
“Because you’re going to be sad all the time,” they said.
By this point in her life, Poore had spent more than 25 years in the nursing field, and had seen the rewards that come with caring for others, day in and day out. She sat her kids down and told them why she believed that opening Casa de la Luz Hospice, which just celebrated its 20th anniversary last November, was the right thing to do.
“It is sad when people lose someone they love,” she told them. “But what we get to do is try to make that time the best it can be.”
Poore, who received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2018 Inside Tucson Business/Tucson Local Media Women of Influence dinner and recently received the 2019 Most Inspirational Mentor Award from the Tucson Nurses Week Foundation, has dedicated her life to this cause. Poore, Casa’s chief clinical officer, and Jaramillo, Casa’s chief executive officer, are leading the largest hospice provider in Tucson. Since they founded the company back in 1998, Poore, Jaramillo and their staff have cared for more than 20,000 patients—Poore estimates that, when you consider the number of families Casa’s bereavement program has helped, the number of individuals served shoots to well over 60,000.
“I think what she does is she leads with her heart and what’s right and just,” said Jommel Fischer, Casa’s director of nursing.
Poore agrees that this has always been her guiding principle. But she said the journey hasn’t always been easy. As the sixth of 12 children, she got lots of practice taking care of younger siblings (and some older siblings) growing up. The decision to study nursing at the University of Arizona came naturally. When she graduated in 1972, she got a job at Tucson Medical Center right away, and her immediate move into leadership roles came naturally as well.
“I think I learned a lot of negotiating and mediating skills because I was number six,’ she said, laughing. “Though, when I finished college, I was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be a nurse for a couple of years and then quit and raise 12 children.”
By 1989, she was the assistant director of maternal child nursing and the manager of pediatrics. One of her responsibilities as an administrator was to do the budgets, so she knew early when the hospital was planning its first workforce reduction, though the rest of the staff didn’t. She and the other higher-ups agreed to spend the day of the layoffs walking through their units and being extra supportive to the unsuspecting staff. Poore was doing just that when she was paged to head to the administrative office and informed her position was being eliminated.
She was devastated. She started working toward her Master of Business Administration at the University of Phoenix a few months earlier, and it felt insane to her to continue taking higher education courses while she and her husband didn’t have an income. Her husband, who had been a stay-at-home dad since their daughter was born more than a decade earlier, encouraged her to keep going, because it would be important for her career. She says having his support over the years has been critical.
So, she finished her master’s degree and started working at a series of jobs in home healthcare over the next few years. She met Jaramillo along the way, who had the idea to start Casa, and invited Poore to come with her. They got a small business loan for women and started the company “on a shoestring and a prayer.”
“Starting Casa was a huge risk for us,” Poore said of the company which now cares for more than 300 patients at a time in the greater Tucson area. “My nature is not to take risks… but you’ve got to take risks sometimes to get a reward. And it’s very rewarding to do this.”
The 2019 Women of Influence Dinner and Awards are on Wednesday, March 6, with cocktails and mingling from 5:30 to 7 p.m. and dinner and awards from 7 to 9 p.m. Tickets are $62, and the event is at Desert Diamond Event Center, 110 W. Pima Mine Road, Sahuarita. For tickets and information call Special Events Manager Laura Horvath at 520 797 4384.