“We help people be accepting of where they’re at, offer them hope.”

Michelle "Shelley" Bazala, Meriter NewStart Nurse Supervisor

Sometimes we intentionally follow in our parents’ footsteps. For Shelley Bazala, it was a more serendipitous route.

“My mom was a nurse,” says Bazala. “So I discounted it.”

She decided she was more interested in social work and pharmacy. But somewhere along the way, the light bulb turned on.

“It hit me that nursing combined both of them.”

Three kids, seven grandkids and more than thirty-five years later, Bazala has enjoyed a successful and fulfilling career in behavioral health as a nurse providing direct patient care and now as a nurse supervisor for Meriter Hospital’s alcohol and drug treatment program, known as NewStart. Not only is she a skilled RN, her colleagues say she brings out the best in everyone with whom she works, she’s an invaluable advocate and support system for patients and families, and in general, “You feel better when Shelley is around.”

Bazala is equally effusive about her co-workers. “I am blessed with a wonderful, competent staff,” she says. “We help people be accepting of where they’re at, offer them hope.”

In a field where the illness has the added disadvantage of societal stigma, Bazala’s calm leadership style, particularly when a patient is in crisis, and her compassion for the person behind the addiction is a winning combination.

“Systems can be overwhelming. Access to services can be challenging,” she says. And to top it all off, “They’re being judged.”

“Lack of understanding and knowledge among health care providers themselves about substance use and addiction can be a barrier for the person in need of help,” Bazala says. “Attitudes, in both health care and society at large, compound the embarrassment/guilt/shame/anger that may be present for the person in need of help.”

Her daunting task?

“We try to educate and support the health care provider as well as meet the patient’s needs and intervene in a timely manner.”

In today’s world, that means treating the whole patient and acknowledging the physical as well as the environmental issues surrounding addiction. These trends in medicine are encouraging, says Bazala. “Standards and outcomes are going to get better and better.” That includes pharmacology, with new and more effective drugs to help people through detox and recovery more quickly and easily.

“Seeing how someone regains their life is a true ‘high,’” Bazala says.

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