Alumna Laura McCreadie (center) made a colossal switch a couple years ago from taking care
of children in the emergency room to taking on the region’s opioid-addiction problem.
Since August 2016, McCreadie has worked for Hamilton County Public Health, for which she took on the tall task of managing and growing the harm reduction program, formed to combat the negative impact of substance use disorder, exacerbated in recent years by opioids. A little more than a year later, McCreadie became director of nursing and disease prevention, but continues to lead the
harm reduction program.
Highs and Lows
In her first role, McCreadie and a team of clinicians visited communities in a mobile unit to distribute sterile syringes; administer tests for pregnancy, HIV and hepatitis; and build relationships to eventually refer individuals to treatment programs.
“The cool part,” McCreadie says of the job, “is seeing people who are in recovery and who were able to get through a really dark place.” She recalls one woman, in particular, who received naloxone nine times before she sought treatment. Now, she’s sober and working with drug-addicted individuals who want to recover. “She can look at people and say, ‘I get it. There’s hope. Keep going.’”
Of course, McCreadie knows many others who do not seek treatment. She and a team of researchers regularly combed through vital statistics records of county residents who died of drug overdose involving an opioid. One morning, merely by chance, the record at the top of the mountainous stack on her desk belonged to a long-time family friend.
“I put the death record down. I had to walk away. That was a huge wake-up call for me,” McCreadie says. “I felt like I came into this work understanding how far spread of an impact this has on our community. I quickly learned I don’t know a thing.”
No Quick Fix
Before McCreadie started working in public health, she earned her bachelor’s (’00) from UC College of Nursing and master’s from Xavier University (’10), and spent 17 years at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. For 10 years, she worked as manager of patient services, then as a charge nurse in the fast-paced emergency department.
“I was an instant-fix kind of girl,” she says. “If a kid came into the ER with a fever, you’d get them hooked up to an IV, give them Tylenol, and in 60 minutes, they would look good as new.”
Unfortunately for drug-addicted individuals and the broader community, there isn’t a quick fix, but McCreadie says she’s in it for the long haul. Earlier this year, she became the director of nursing and disease prevention. She oversees the county’s sexually transmitted disease prevention services, tuberculosis clinic, and children’s vaccination program. In addition, McCreadie asked to continue leading the harm reduction program.
“The deal was that I would come over to disease prevention, if the harm reduction program could come with me,” she says. “These things are interconnected; people come in with TB because they’re HIV-positive. That’s why it makes so much sense to have these under one roof.”
The tuberculosis clinic offers a full range of services from skin tests to X-rays and prescriptions. It also distributes naloxone for free through the Narcan Distribution Collaborative and offers free HIV and syphilis testing. To prevent the spread of these diseases, a team of researchers retrace the steps of infected individuals.
“It’s like an investigation. We look at social media and friends of these folks to try to trace back to where the disease might have started and to whom it may have spread,” McCreadie says. The county provides confidential partner notification services, whereby trained staff notify partners of those with HIV or syphilis.
In the coming months, McCreadie’s team will absorb the Bureau for Children with Medical Handicaps, residential lead poisoning mitigation services, and perinatal Hepatitis B prevention services. Despite her mounting responsibilities, McCreadie hasn’t looked back.
“If you told me even five years ago that I wouldn’t be working at Children’s anymore and,
instead, working in public health, handing out Narcan and syringes, I would have looked at you and said you’re crazy,” she says. “But, we have to adapt and change to help the community.”
By: Laura Toerner
This article appears in the summer 2018 edition of UC Nursing magazine.