2020 Tucson Woman of the Year
By Romi Carrell Wittman
Judy Rich’s influence can be felt in nearly every corner of Southern Arizona.
Since taking the helm of Tucson Medical Center in 2007, Rich has made improving our community a top priority. Greater Tucson Leadership has named her the 2020 Woman of the Year.
Rich began her career as a registered nurse, and that training and experience still guide her work. As Julia Strange, TMC’s VP of community benefit, said in Rich’s nomination letter, “No matter how we describe Judy, we first must call her a nurse …. Nurses are compassionate people who have heart. They want to help others heal, to ease their suffering, to honor each person’s uniqueness in what may be their most vulnerable time.”
Rich’s community involvement is extensive. Currently, she serves as chair of Sun Corridor Inc., and is on the board of directors of the Tucson Airport Authority – two entities that bolster the community’s financial well-being. In addition, she serves on the boards of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and numerous hospital professional associations. Rich is also a longtime supporter of United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona.
She has spearheaded several key initiatives with the goal of improving life in Southern Arizona. She led the partnership between TMC and CODAC Health to create the Connie Hillman Family House, which provides a safe living place for women undergoing substance abuse treatment. Rich has also been an active Get Out the Vote organizer and volunteer.
In 2014, Rich led the coalition to expand Medicaid in Arizona. Thanks to these efforts, nearly 400,000 Arizonans were able to gain healthcare coverage under Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System. This expansion benefitted all hospitals, but especially smaller, rural hospitals that otherwise might have had to close their doors.
Pima County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry said, “As president and CEO of TMC Healthcare, Judy Rich has a profound understanding of why economic development is so crucial to our region.” This work has been made more difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Huckelberry said Rich’s work has ensured Tucson will recover. “In part because of Judy’s work on these economic initiatives, this region was recognized by the world’s foremost professional site selection consultants as one of the top 10 in the U.S. to recover from the pandemic.”
Rich is actively working with Sun Corridor Inc. to ensure that the region’s economic recovery is robust. “After serving on our Chairman’s Circle for many years, in 2020, Judy was selected to be chair of the board for Sun Corridor Inc. in a most pivotal time for our economy,” said Sun Corridor President and CEO Joe Snell. “Under Judy’s leadership, we will unveil an Economic Recovery Plan to ensure that Southern Arizona emerges from the health and economic challenge by building on the strengths in place and returning the region to its prosperous path prior to the pandemic.”
Her vision, creativity and proactive nature has made her a tremendous force. Louise Francesconi, chair of TMC Healthcare board of trustees, said Rich demonstrated this last spring when COVID-19 first affected our community. In mid-March, with just one affected patient in the intensive care unit, Rich activated TMC’s Hospital Command Center to determine best practices to mitigate the spread, to obtain adequate personal protective equipment and supplies, and to ensure sufficient staff resources.
Part of this preparation was also to support hospital staff whom she knew would suffer fatigue and burnout as they cared for the thousands affected.
Rich showed her creative and compassionate focus when she helped to develop protocols to enable COVID-19 patients to see their families. “Because TMC is mostly a ground-level facility, nearly all the rooms have windows that face out to courtyards,” Francesconi said. “Judy realized that those windows can be the connection point our patients and their loved ones have been craving. Today, the program is an unmitigated success with between 125 and 150 people a day coming to see their friends and families through the windows of TMC.”
Rich is characteristically humble about the Woman of the Year award. “It’s a moment you never forget,” she said, referring to when she was told of the honor. “My executive team was there and my daughter, who lives in Tucson. My other children were on the big screen in the auditorium. They were larger than life and I couldn’t stop looking at them.
“Obviously, I felt very honored. I love Tucson and I’m grateful I live here. I see the incredible needs in this community, the social needs, the poverty, the stark contrast between the beautiful place we live and the needs of the community. Getting involved is a natural progression of my work.”
Rich looks forward to continuing her work in the community. “I think I’m right where I’m supposed to be and that feels good.”