March 24, 2022
Returning to Her Roots: Meet EveryStep Knoxville team director Mary Jo Romanco
With a career that has included hospice work in Iowa and nationally, Mary Jo Romanco of Pleasantville is happy to have returned to her roots in south-central Iowa with the EveryStep team in Knoxville.
EveryStep has been a presence in the Knoxville community since 1991, bringing care to patients and families wherever they live. With her return to the organization, Mary Jo looks forward to continuing to build on the community’s long-standing trust in EveryStep’s compassionate, home-based care services.
After receiving her registered nurse diploma from the Iowa Methodist School of Nursing, Mary Jo signed on as a staff RN at Iowa Methodist Medical Center (now UnityPoint) in Des Moines. After four years, she accepted a position with Hospice of Central Iowa (now EveryStep) as the satellite coordinator for a hospice team in Knoxville.
“In 1990 I was working in pediatric oncology in Des Moines, and was tired of the commute and working every other weekend,” says Mary Jo, who was living in Pleasantville. “Cancer treatment was very different back then with fewer treatment options. As patients were dying, I was always focused on keeping them comfortable and their family well supported. Hospice was a natural transition for me.”
In 1997, Mary Jo left the EveryStep team in Knoxville to explore other opportunities in the hospice field, which included work for hospices both statewide and nationwide. In 2013, she was awarded the Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse of the Year for Iowa by the National Association of Home Care and Hospice.
Taking a break from hospice from 2015-2021, Mary Jo worked as a certified RN health coach helping people make lifestyle changes to improve or delay onset of chronic diseases. “It is very rewarding to help people take charge of their health,” says Mary Jo. In late 2021, she saw that her “old” position as director of the EveryStep team in Knoxville had opened. In Knoxville and throughout surrounding counties, EveryStep offers both hospice and home health care services.
Mary Jo was excited to return to hospice and home care, especially since it was in Knoxville, where she had served at the beginning of her career, and near her home in Pleasantville. “I missed the patients and families and staff who are committed to provide comfort care at end of life,” says Mary Jo.
Her Knoxville team is also excited to be working with Mary Jo. “I couldn’t ask for better a leader. Her dedication and knowledge of her job are unbelievable,” says EveryStep aide Denise Van Dusseldorp. “Mary Jo isn't afraid to step away from her desk and help out in the field when we are in need. Whether you need to talk, need help on the computer or just have a silly question, she always makes time. Mary Jo repeatedly thanks all of us and tells us how much she appreciates each one of us. She is a fabulous leader. I've had many leaders and Mary Jo is by far the best.”
Patty Schwanebeck, an EveryStep nurse with the Knoxville team, echoes Denise’s comments. “Mary Jo listens well and is fair in all of her dealings, even when it is difficult. Our office is filled with kind and genuinely concerned and capable professionals in all capacities,” says Patty. “When you come through our doors you are greeted with open hearts and minds. Mary Jo cultivates genuine kindness and peace. It is truly a joy to be here. Mary Jo absolutely takes care of the patient first, but does not forget to care about the caregiver either.”
Growing up in Des Moines, Mary Jo moved to Pleasantville when she married her husband Mike in 1989. Together they raised three children and now have three grandchildren. “They are the light of my life,” says Mary Jo.
In her free time, Mary Jo enjoys camping and boating. As a 17-year breast cancer survivor, she stays involved in community activities supporting services to women undergoing treatment and transitioning to survivorship. “I have a passion for disease prevention and wellness, and am an avid walker and lifestyle coach.”
For Mary Jo, providing end-of-life care is rewarding itself, but doing so in the communities she has been a part of since 1989 has special significance. “The beauty of small-town hospice care is that it is neighbors taking care of neighbors.”
EveryStep currently seeks RNs to join its Knoxville team and is offering a $10,000 sign-on bonus. If you would like to work for an experienced and trusted leader like Mary Jo, please visit everystep.org/careers to learn about EveryStep’s career opportunities.