2012 Citizen of the Year: A doctor to the poor

2013-01-01T05:02:00Z 2012 Citizen of the Year: A doctor to the poorCYNDY COLE Sun Staff Reporter Arizona Daily Sun
January 01, 2013 5:02 am  • 

Dr. Henry Poore remembers the Great Depression and the dignity of low-paid work through memories of his father, who worked 12-hour shifts, six days out of seven -- for $8 per week.

"We were poor people. We had plenty to eat, but there was no money," Poore said, crediting their garden and cow with getting the family through hard times.

As for medicine, it was Poore's grandfather, a country doctor who cared for him when he was young and had scarlet fever, who introduced him to what would become his life's calling.

These were some of the early experiences of Flagstaff's longtime primary care physician, medical missionary, and a founder last year of the Poore Medical Clinic for the uninsured.

For his work serving the poor and sick today, Poore is the male Arizona Daily Sun Citizen of the Year.

"He and his wife are very generous people," said Joe Donaldson, former Flagstaff mayor.

Poore made it to Emory and Henry College, where he studied chemistry and English. During an interview for medical school at the University of Virginia, a dean asked for a statement on Thomas Jefferson and how much money Poore had at the time: $2.40.

"I lived on a shoestring during the first year," Poore said.

The dean invited him to dine every two weeks, a gift he only recognized later.

Poore met his wife of 57 years, a nurse named Nina (rhymes with China) by chance.

Nina was visiting a friend with whom Henry was supposed to be going on a double date, and Henry's date had canceled due to work.

"I kind of made short work of moving in," he said.

He became the person who drew blood -- the phlebotomist -- for the medical school hospital in Virginia, did work in cancer research, and worked out a mechanism for measuring plasma in mice.

But mostly, Poore wanted to do every kind of medical work a general physician might need to know -- surgery, orthopedics, pediatrics -- so he headed for more training before becoming the head doctor in a small town on the Virginia-North Carolina border.

Racial tensions were high, and pollen, mold and heat were triggering allergies in the family, so the Poores loaded up their three children and a trailer, and set out across the country looking for a new home along Route 66.

They drove through a dust storm in Gallup and kept going in the dark.

They parked and woke up near Walnut Canyon to blue skies and pine trees, and this was where they ultimately decided to make home.

The kids were sick with strep throat, so Poore set out to look for medicine.

While he was gone, Dr. Charles Sechrist, the founder of Flagstaff Medical Center, stopped by, giving them shots.

Sechrist kept 50-pound bags of beans and rice in his lobby, with a sign that read "help yourself."

He invited Poore to work in Flagstaff, and later dressed him down when he learned Poore was charging $4 per house call rather than $3. Poore later dropped those charges altogether whenever he figured out he was treating patients who were struggling to buy food.

"Charlie Sechrist was my hero," Poore said.

Sechrist turned to Poore at the end of his life.

"I have terminal cancer. Would you take care of my poor people?" Sechrist asked.

Poore said he'd try.

Poore established a private practice in Flagstaff for 35 years, doing surgery in the mornings, rounds in the hospital, and seeing patients in his office in the afternoons.

He saw 40 or 50 patients per day -- a caseload about twice what a very busy physician would take today -- while raising seven kids with Nina.

"I knew all of them, and I knew their families, and I knew their grandmothers. That was the joy of practicing," he said.

In that time, malpractice insurance, much more expensive technology and disputes with insurance companies about what would be covered entered the picture, and the cost of medical school multiplied from the $500 per year Poore had spent.

Poore "retired" in the 1980s.

He and Nina started medical missions to Honduras, Africa, Mexico, the Navajo Nation, Havasupai, Alaska after the Valdez oil spill, and the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina.

Nina, a nurse, helped to start Citizens Against Substance Abuse, and in 1990 she was named an Arizona Daily Sun Citizen of the Year.

He started thinking about how to open a free clinic three years ago, along with Nina and Bill Packard, opening it in the fall of 2011.

"We're seeing the patients who are uninsured, and the ones who are falling through the cracks," he said.

Some of the health problems he sees rival what he saw in developing countries, he said.

Poore has about 30 dentists, three nurse practitioners, a psychiatrist and multiple specialist physicians volunteering to help the uninsured -- all unpaid -- along with about 30 volunteers who run the clinic's office.

Cyndy Cole can be reached at ccole@azdailysun.com or at 913-8607.

Copyright 2015 Arizona Daily Sun. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(4) Comments

  1. Ima Wonder
    Report Abuse
    Ima Wonder - January 02, 2013 11:19 am
    Patricia Gilliland
    In 1966 I had the Asian flu which turned into pneumonia. If it hadn't have been for Dr. Poore, I would have died. I am now 80yrs.and want to say "Thank You" to a wonderful doctor and man. How wonderful you are to be treating the poor today. I hope this does not offend anyone,but "GOD BLESS YOU" Dr. Poore.
  2. bmarie
    Report Abuse
    bmarie - January 02, 2013 8:41 am
    This is a great cause in our community to donate to. Thank you, Dr. Poore and to all those who assist you.
  3. KmKayisKMK
    Report Abuse
    KmKayisKMK - January 01, 2013 1:06 pm
    Cheers to a great man!
  4. Morpheus
    Report Abuse
    Morpheus - January 01, 2013 11:12 am
    What a great story. God bless the doctors who help the poor.
Add Comment
You must Login to comment.

Click here to get an account it's free and quick