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WRC Nurse Coordinator

"I love having the opportunity to connect with these women and empower them. I feel like this is my purpose and everything has led me to this moment."

Samantha “Sam” is a nurse employed through a grant written by HHF in 2021 that established the Women’s Recovery Center (WRC). The WRC is a three-county-wide program that aims to provide services to women of childbearing years who experience substance use disorder (SUD). To Sam, her job is so rewarding that “it doesn’t even feel like work.” She has the capacity to understand her clients’ struggle with substance use in an intimate way because Sam – herself – is in recovery.

She experimented with substances in high school, but after graduation, she was introduced to OxyContin. That’s when, Sam says, her substance use “went from 0 to 100.” Her life quickly unraveled. Soon, she was homeless and seeking a warmer climate. She landed in Florida where her substance use continued to spiral uncontrollably. She suffered multiple overdoses, one of which was nearly fatal.

How did her life come to this? As she sat in the Florida sun, baking on the blacktop of a convenience store parking lot alongside her fellow users, she felt embarrassed. She knew life could hold so much more for her if she could only find a way out of this situation, so she called an unlikely ally – her estranged father.

He begrudgingly purchased a one-way bus ticket to his home in PA. He did not permit her to seek therapy of any kind or talk about her substance use. Sam endured an excruciating, unmedicated detox under his roof. As soon as she was healthy and strong enough, she moved out and began to rebuild her life.

Still, the way forward was fraught with unexpected challenges. She pursued nursing school and graduated with honors. However, the board of nursing refused to let her obtain her license. Due to her SUD history, Sam’s application was stalled for months while the board deliberated on how to handle her unusual case. Sam watched her peers pass their licensing exam and progress into fruitful careers. Meanwhile, she waited. And waited. And waited.

Ultimately, Sam was required to attend the disciplinary Pennsylvania Nurse Peer Assistance program, typically reserved for nurses struggling with active substance use during their nursing career. Sam was sober long before she applied to nursing school, let alone graduated. Still, the program was the only pathway to obtaining her license, so Sam complied.

Throughout the program, Sam was subjected to random drug testing, mandatory in-person group therapy in Pittsburgh each Monday, and a list of restrictions for employment. The drug testing and weekly travel was so expensive, Sam had to take out a personal loan to cover the cost.

Three years after entering the program, she received the call that she had successfully completed it. She was moved to tears. Shortly thereafter, Sam jumped at the chance to apply for the nurse coordinator role with the Women’s Recovery Center, and for the past year and a half, Sam has been thriving.

“I love having the opportunity to connect with these women and empower them,” she says. Sam is changing lives. Her unique ability to relate to patients in active use has incredible healing power. “I really feel like this is my purpose and everything led me to this moment.” Sam plans to continue working in her current role, while also advocating for reform in both the nursing licensure process as well as with treatment protocols for SUD. She is a staunch advocate for low or no barrier care for those with SUD, a conviction she holds from personal experience.

Never one to slow down, Sam also recently received a scholarship from HHF and successfully attained her addiction RN certification. For all the ways in which her life has change, Sam feels “unbelievably grateful to HHF.”