Transitions can be tough.
An infant's switch from a parent's care to daycare. A patient's mode from hospital to rehab. An elderly person's journey from living alone to a nursing home.
But the transition from trauma, mental illness, or incarceration back into one’s community is one of the hardest, particularly when substance abuse is involved. It’s those kinds of transitions that Georgia’s Healing House aims to ease. And thanks to a few champions and one tireless nursing student, it’s doing just that.
Katie Sutton (BSN ’16) was interning at the Charlottesville affiliate of Partners for Mental Health with nurse Sue Hess when she first noticed the gap in transitional housing services for women. Most programs were for men, too abbreviated, or based on a rigid set of personal circumstances—abuse by a spouse, for instance.
"There was "very little for women who experienced substance abuse or who had a breakdown and no safe place to recover," explains Sutton, now a nurse at Georgetown's intensive care unit. "Many of these women were in jail, would get clean, and then have no place to go, and would return to their previous lifestyles. But we knew the cycle could be broken."
Sutton began gathering information—talking to local jails, homeless shelters, and social service agencies. She and Hess rallied for space and programming. That led to a long-term rental and, ultimately—with painstaking coordination of furniture and household items—a place that today feels like home.
Today in year two, the house – name for a beloved local woman and alcoholic named Georgia who died in jail – is home to 12 women actively recovering from substance abuse. Professionals, including nursing students, help the women to secure basic needs—food, appropriate clothing and shoes—along with transportation, work, financial planning, and counseling.
Residents attend Narcotics Anonymous or Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, find a sponsor, and report on their progress at weekly house meetings. For nursing students, this community health rotation offers an intimate look at how addiction affects people’s lives, showing too what Hess calls “the other side”: “understanding that there is hope—and what the journey of recovery looks like.”
For the women, as for Sutton, the experience is profound.
"Every part of nursing is related to psychiatric care," says Sutton. "Working for Georgia's House took me out of the UVA bubble and made me realize how much goes on that I don't understand, but that I'd like to try to help in some capacity."