Year of the Nurse Profile: Agnes Poore, Co-Founder of Casa de la Luz Hospice

May 4, 2020

During her 48-year career as a nurse, University of Arizona College of Nursing alumna Agnes Poore has exemplified the qualities being celebrated during the World Health Organization’s Year of the Nurse: excellence, leadership and innovation. A native Tucsonan, Poore earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the College in 1972 and began her career working in pediatrics as a bedside nurse before realizing that her true passion lay in nurse leadership. In that capacity, she has tirelessly made a difference in the lives of patients and their loved ones by directing, encouraging and mentoring caregivers. This year, Poore is the UArizona nominee for Alumna of the Year.

Over the years, Poore has served as Assistant Director of Maternal Child Nursing and Manager of Pediatrics at Tucson Medical Center, Director of Professional and Clinical Services at Kimberly Quality Care, and Director of Professional Services at several home care agencies. She found her true calling in 1998 as co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of Casa de la Luz Hospice, which provides sensitive care and support for patients and their loved ones in the final phase of life. Additionally, Poore has given back to her community by volunteering as a board member for both the Pima Council on Aging and the Arizona Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

"I found I loved taking care of people, but what I most enjoyed was taking care of the people who take care of the patients. I love to see others grow in their profession.  That might be in a clinical direction or a leadership direction, but it is wonderful to watch someone grow.  It’s very rewarding to me," ~ Agnes Poore, BSN, MBA, Co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer, Casa de la Luz Hospice

Poore got her first taste of caregiving as the middle sibling of 12 children. “I did lots of caregiving for younger siblings and a couple who were older than me,” she says. Because of that experience, nursing was a natural choice for her. Growing up in Blenman-Elm within blocks of the UArizona Health Sciences buildings as they were first being erected, she always felt that becoming a Wildcat Nurse was her destiny – and a big part of her DNA. Her father was a Wildcat, two of her cousins and a niece became Wildcat Nurses, and her three children are all graduates of the University. "Four of my siblings are UArizona grads as are a number of other family members,” she says. “We are definitely a Wildcat family.”

When she first entered the profession as a bedside nurse, Poore loved caring for families, but as she delved more into management she found that her skills were better served in that area. “I found I loved taking care of people, but what I most enjoyed was taking care of the people who take care of the patients,” she says. “I love to see others grow in their profession.  That might be in a clinical direction or a leadership direction, but it is wonderful to watch someone grow.  It’s very rewarding to me.”

After stints as Head Nurse/Manager and later Assistant Director of the Maternal Child Department at Tucson Medical Center, she moved into the home health care field, which eventually pointed her in the direction of the kind of hospice care she provides today at Casa de la Luz. After meeting her future business partner, Lynette Jaramillo, and receiving the blessings of their families as well as securing a small business loan, Poore and Jaramillo co-founded Casa de la Luz in 1998. In November, the largest provider of hospice services in Southern Arizona will turn 22. The facility currently employs more than 270 individuals of varied disciplines and skills, including more than 100 registered nurses.

“To me, hospice is an incredible service where we get to care for the patient and family—they are the center of everything we do,” says Poore.  “Whatever it takes to get them the care they need, that’s what we do.  Because, as we say, ‘we only get one chance to do it right.’  I tell many staff members that is what hospice is all about and why many of us got into nursing in the first place—it’s about caring for people.”

Poore stresses that creating a loving environment for end-of-life care means surrounding patients with the people who mean the most in their lives -- family, friends and loved ones -- is the best way to fight back against isolation and loneliness. An equally important factor is the health care professionals who make up the staff. With hospital wages and community pay often widely divergent, she has struggled at times to find staff, but she has managed to find like-minded people with a passion for care that matches her own. “Our staff find that the rewards we have in this hospice work often far outweigh what difference there may be between hospital and community pay,” Poore says.

Her schedule bursts with activity, including administrative tasks such as meetings with department directors and the management/supervisor team, but she always makes sure to maintain a human connection with her entire staff. “I like to make rounds in the office, seeing the staff—and not just the nurses,” she says.  “We have a number of administrative staff who are ‘behind the scenes’ as well as our own physicians, a whole IT department, plus our field staff who are working all throughout the community using laptops and remote connections.”

That sense of interpersonal connection is one of the things Poore prides herself most on, although it has been strained by the current COVID-19 crisis. All but a handful of Casa de la Luz staff are working remotely. Less than 10 staff members work in the office to try to keep things business-as-usual for patients, families and referral sources, forwarding messages, concerns and other issues to appropriate staff off-site for follow-up. “It’s been a challenging time while so many of us are working from home and social distancing,” says Poore.  “We look forward to a time when we can get back to normal, working closely together again.”

Poore acknowledges that it’s difficult being present for patients without being in their presence. But she and her staff are rising to the occasion, connecting patients to the services and people in the community who can help them best. “Keeping them connected to their families, friends, and loved ones helps them to not feel so isolated,” she says.  “We have staff making frequent phone calls and doing some ‘virtual’ visits with and for them with facetime, zoom, other applications.”

No matter what, Poore has optimism for the future of nursing, and she continues to maintain a strong commitment to her alma mater. At Casa de la Luz, she continues to work with students from UArizona Nursing and over the years has hired many UArizona graduates who she is proud to have on her team. To students just entering the field – or considering a nursing education, she has some simple words of advice: “There are so many opportunities in nursing.  Find your passion, what makes nursing meaningful for you.  And don’t be afraid to follow a dream, as long as you know where you are headed.”