October 24, 2023 — Nursing has always been one of the largest professions in the world and is often viewed as one of the most important and rewarding.  However, nursing can also be a very difficult and straining profession as well. 

Chair of the Statewide Nurses Committee Amy Lee Pacholk and Committee Co-Chair Vincent Cicatello
Chair of the Statewide Nurses Committee Amy Lee Pacholk and Committee Co-Chair Vincent Cicatello.

The PEF Statewide Nurses Committee held its annual luncheon on October 17 at Convention, presented by PEF Nurse Coordinator Nora Higgins, Chair of the Statewide Nurses Committee Amy Lee Pacholk and Committee Co-Chair Vincent Cicatello. The meeting was a chance for PEF nurses to get to know the committee members and other nurses serving as PEF delegates.  

It was also a chance to make sure nurses get the resources they need to help themselves in case of addiction.  

The committee introduced Janet Price-Kurta and Rob Simpson from the Statewide Peer Assistance for Nurses (SPAN). SPAN’s mission is to provide support, advocacy and education to nurses affected by substance use disorders.  

SPAN knows that sometimes nurses need help, too, and offers advice and counsel to both nurses affected by alcohol or drug-related issues, and those that may be working with nurses who have a substance use disorder. 

“We all know in nursing, wellness is sometimes something we put on the back burner,” said Simpson. “We’re really good at taking care of others, but we’re not good at taking care of ourselves.” 

Simpson was formerly a PEF member who worked as a Nurse Administrator with the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. He now works full-time at SPAN. 

Simpson shared his own experience as a young nursing student given early access to alcohol. 

“I was a typical teenager, and a typical nursing student. If we had good tests, you’d go out and celebrate,” he said. “If you had a bad test, you’d go out and commiserate. There was a culture to say that we have to use alcohol and other substances to help us cope with life,” he said. 

The journey for people like Simpson often comes with not only the stressors of the job, but the stress of life events. Thankfully, Simpson was eventually able to find stable employment at the Clinton Correctional Facility and credits PEF’s union activities, with helping him manage his schedule and his substance use.  

“Believe it or not, for me at the time, working in corrections gave me more time off than I ever had before. I found that I loved PEF and all the things the union brought and did to help us as correctional nurses,” Simpson said.  

Simpson began a treatment program soon after beginning his employment at DOCCS and has not had a drink since 2005.  A PEF union representative at the time recommended he attend a SPAN meeting and he’s been involved with the organization in some capacity ever since. 

“SPAN really helped me identify with other nurses to say, ‘we’re in this together,’” he said. 

Statewide Nurses CommitteeNurses have a higher percentage of risk factors for developing substance use. About 15 to 20 percent of nurses have been or will be affected by substance use. SPAN’s job is to identify nurses who are using and connect them as soon as possible to the help they need. 

SPAN is 100 percent voluntary and nurses do not need to join to use their resources. The services are also free and confidential. They will work with government offices and management to make sure any nurse dealing with substance use disorder has the help they need. 

SPAN also advocates for nurses referring other nurses when they believe there is a problem, but offers advice on how to approach those difficult conversations. 

“Make sure you understand the policy at your agency,” Simpson said. “Going to management is a good idea, they should know the policy and know how to connect with SPAN.” 

For more information about SPAN, to find a support group, or to become a facilitator, visit their website or call (800) 457-7261.