The Role of Nurses in Addiction Treatment – Limelight

role of nurses Tiffany window

Treatment begins in a particular place… the dining room at John Street for Men


The residential houses and outpatient facility at Sanford Addiction Treatment Centers are homelike and non-institutional for a reason. Treatment begins in a particular place, and an aesthetically pleasing environment can contribute toward reducing stress, promoting self-care, and serve as a vehicle to healing.


Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) & Medical Management

However, behind the peaceful scenes at Sanford, there is a full complement of medical and clinical staff. These professionals include an MD – Addictionologist, Nurse Practitioner, Physician Assistants, 24-hour nurse supervision, and master’s level clinicians.


At Sanford, our treatment programs incorporate group, individual, and family therapy along with medical services and medication management. Medication-Assisted Treatment (MAT) combines psychosocial behavioral therapy and pharmacotherapy to treat substance use disorders.The subject of today’s Limelight Interview, Tamara Steele, is the Lead RN on the medical team. She, and a retinue of nurses, provide day-to-day quality care to Sanford clients.


The Role of Nurses in Addiction Treatment – Limelight Interview Tamara Steele, RN

I love seeing our clients transform and be willing to participate. The body has a miraculous way of healing itself if we take care of it.

Tamara Steele, Sanford Lead RN


Tamara Steele, RN

SH – What is your role at Sanford?

Tamara Steele – I am the head RN, and I oversee the nursing team. We have a permanent team and we provide 24 hour support to our clients. I am on-call 24/7 and available for emergencies, but during my regular hours, I go between the residential houses and outpatient. And I try to visit each facility at least once a day. I guide the nursing staff, provide education, put out fires, and facilitate staff meetings.


SH – What exactly do the nurses do?

Tamara Steele – Nurses are the hands-on caretakers. We do assessments, nurse progress notes, monitor symptoms, cravings, sleeping patterns, and how our clients are feeling on a daily basis. Nurses hand out meds, provide medical protocols, and monitor anything out of perimeter (contacting me if necessary). We also help with medical intakes, overseen by our Nurse Practitioner, Amy Bukala.


SH – What made you become a nurse?

Tamara Steele – I have wanted to be a nurse since the age of 3. I just knew that was what I wanted to be. My nickname as a child (although I didn’t realize it till I was 18) was “Nurse Terror”. Interestingly, two weeks into my nursing program, I started to cry. I had no idea until I began, the degree of responsibility it would entail. I appreciate that every day. There are certainly protocols to follow, but intuitive assessment skill is a big part of nursing.


SH – From your perspective, what is the key to success in recovery?

Tamara Steele – You have to want recovery more than anything. And you need to deal with the fact that the hardest part is staying in recovery. During the pandemic, when connection is hard to find, there is the risk of relapse.


SH – And the pitfalls to success or relapse?

Tamara Steele – No support system. No support in your camp. Letting yourself get too hungry, bored, overwhelmed is always a slippery slope. Whatever works for you, stick to the routine. And similarly, stigma is a factor in success/lack of success. Especially in the emergency rooms. I have seen it – there is definitely more respect shown for those with hypertension, for example, than someone who has relapsed. It has to change.


SH – How has COVID-19 impacted your life at Sanford?

Tamara Steele – Everyone gets screened every day. And things are more stressful – fatiguing. It’s hard to see facial expressions, read inflections and hear people with everyone wearing masks.


SH – What is the impact of MAT from your perspective? The roll of nurses?

Tamara Steele – That is an excellent question. I am so glad that clients with opioid use disorder have options with MAT, based on their needs and preferences. Sublocade is a monthly injection of buprenorphine – extended release. It is very promising in that it is effective and takes diversion out of the equation. Sanford is MAT friendly and we help a lot of clients have a better quality of life because of it. Research shows that MAT is the most effective treatment for opioid addiction when combined with counseling.


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Providing excellent care in a safe environment … Cherry Street for Women


SH – What is the fun part of your job?

Tamara Steele – I love seeing a client who is hopeless and filled with shame make a change. They look like a whole different person; they are willing to participate. The body has a miraculous way of healing itself if we take care of it.

SH – And the challenging part?

Tamara Steele – I hate it when someone has a medical concern that precludes them from be admitted to treatment right away. When they are willing and ready. And way high on my list is stigma. I wish we could eradicate stigma and disrespect for those with substance use disorders.


SH – What makes Sanford unique in your opinion?

Tamara Steele – That’s easy. Sanford provides the best care of anyplace I have ever worked. There is a great clinical and medical staff and our clients get excellent care.


SH – Do you read for pleasure? Or just professional journals?

Both. I like to read non-fiction. I am a writer – poetry – so I read about that. And I read poetry. Another great book is The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature, by Steven Pinker.


SH – Do you have a motto?

Tamara Steele – (Laughs) I had one, but I forgot what it was. Oh wait … never give up. Keep going.


SH – What about your favorite journey?

Tamara Steele – I have moved many times over the years…Las Vegas…Montana. Most recently, I made the journey home to Lansing and that has been my favorite journey. I have a plaque above my desk. It says, “Life takes you to unexpected places. Love brings you home.”

Thanks Tamara. Welcome home. SH



Sanford Behavioral Health is licensed and accredited as an addiction, eating disorder, and co-occurring mental health treatment facility, serving all of Michigan and beyond. Each of Sanford’s facilities in Greater Grand Rapids is carefully and diligently crafted to create a welcoming and comforting environment. Sanford is led by a psychiatrist-led team of medical, clinical, and support personnel providing medication-assisted, evidenced-based treatment to residential, outpatient, and telehealth patients. For more information, visit