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She’s opening doors for the underserved

Rose Agins believes we are all here to do what we can. As for Rose, she sees herself as a sort of bridge—a connection between people with challenges and the resources to help them meet their needs.

“I’m an advocate for helping people with what is important to them, whatever they want for themselves,” Agins explained. “I always felt early on I had a calling to help people with challenges in the health care field.”

That is exactly what she has been doing for 37 years. She graduated from the University of Rochester with a B.S. degree in nursing and began a career that has taken her through many areas of health care.

She worked as an R.N. at Strong Memorial Hospital and later as a case manager at the Monroe County Health Department. Her patients have been of all ages, from infants to the elderly in nursing homes.

She feels some of her greatest work has been with people who are the most underserved—those who have limited access to medical services due to a lack of health insurance, an inability to reach medical facilities or even a fear of the unknown.

Agins has been able to help them through her work as the health services coordinator at Mercy Community Services Outreach Center, a position she held through its contract with Visiting Nurse Service-Signature Care, where she is still employed today.

At the Mercy Outreach Center, Agins was part nurse, part personal coach to many patients, giving them the support they needed to lose weight, quit smoking and better manage illnesses such as diabetes. She is also credited with stepping in to prevent trips to the emergency room, avoiding expensive care for uninsured patients.

In addition, her expertise in mental health, gained from her work as a mental health in-patient nurse at Strong, made her even more indispensable to many patients with special needs at the outreach center.

But one experience makes Agins feel especially connected to some of the patients she sees. It is a bond she feels from having been in their position. As a breast cancer survivor, she remembers how she relied on the Breast Cancer Coalition of Rochester for support in her time of need 12 years ago. Now she pays it forward as a volunteer for the organization.

Her work with BCCR as well as her own experiences give her a deeper understanding of what patients are feeling.

“Once you’re a part of such a strong team your spirits are connected,” Agins said. “I was able to connect a patient diagnosed with breast cancer to care through Charity Care (a program that provides health care at a reduced cost). She was so grateful because she had no insurance and she felt comfortable with me because I was a breast cancer survivor. I was able to be a bridge for her. I felt that by being at Mercy I was at the right place at the right time.”

Her volunteer work with BCCR has extended to service on its research advisory board, where Agins helps select competitive breast cancer research projects for funding. She also serves as a Peer Advocate Lending Support (PALS) volunteer, mentoring newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.

“She was one of my first mentors,” said Pat Battaglia, PALS program coordinator at BCCR and a breast cancer survivor herself. “She was someone I would turn to with my questions and concerns. I’ve seen her be that repeatedly with people I have sent to her since.”

It is the gentle way Agins has with people that Battaglia admires most, she said, noting that even for all the long hours Agins works and spends with her volunteer projects she has never known her to seem overwhelmed. Instead, she is a calm, steady, reassuring force.

“She has a way of reaching out, sharing her story of survival in a way that you know this thing is beatable,” Battaglia said. “She is a light, a beacon of hope to everyone she touches.”

3/20/15 (c) 2015 RBJ Health Care Achievement Awards. Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected]

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