CRNA Perspectives
  • Advocacy in Action

    By Bridget Petrillo, MS, CRNA

    During a discussion with my chief anesthesiologist about a colleague in treatment for diversion, he remarked about what an impressive job the American Association of Nurse Anesthesiology does in helping anesthesia professionals who are struggling with substance use disorder (SUD). I agreed, and told him my personal story about how advocacy for our colleagues with SUD accomplishes even more than saving their lives. Those lives spared create a ripple effect: Other lives and careers saved, more families united, and better and safer care for our patients.

    A few years ago, a fellow CRNA came to me about something odd she noted in the Pyxis charting of another CRNA she had relieved for the day. Before our discussion, I had made a mental note about a conversation I’d had with the same colleague when he described a weekend of hard drinking at a conference and the enormous bill that he incurred. I’d also noticed his bloated face, shakes and mental fog on a few Monday mornings. In collaboration with our chief CRNA, a system review confirmed our suspicions. The withdrawals of narcotics were well above average and had escalated in the previous 30 days: A warning sign of diversion.

    The three of us knew we needed to advocate for this CRNA in trouble because active addicts are unable to advocate for themselves. Their behavior is directed by a disease that has hijacked their brains — something I knew all too well, because that is what happened to me.

    We began to plan our intervention as outlined by the AANA Peer Assistance model.  A few days later, the chief, the CRNA in question, and I sat in a room. I told him my own story of addiction and recovery and my road back to the head of bed. We told him we cared for him and wanted to help. We called the AANA Helpline and put him on the phone with Rigo Garcia, who arranged a bed for him at Parkdale Center for Professionals.

    My colleague was relieved and agreed to go to treatment. He was suffering and didn’t know how to get help. The disease had a grip on him. He couldn’t see the path toward recovery and confessed that he had been thinking about suicide as relief from the pain.

    Some years later — and now fully immersed in recovery — this CRNA joined me and others, along with the AANA Helpline, to help another CRNA in need. We remembered how someone had advocated for our well-being, and as a result, we are inspired to advocate for the next person in need.

    SUD can challenge anesthesia professionals at every stage of their training. I was recently called upon to help a SRNA who had landed in the emergency room after an overdose. Subsequently discharged and home alone, she began planning her suicide.

    Again, Rigo, Parkdale and I, joined by her Program Director, set out to get her safely into successful treatment. She is now helping another CRNA navigate the administrative loops in their local alternative-to-discipline program for anesthesia providers. Both these professionals will return to the head of bed, provide safe care and advocate for their patients and colleagues.

    My chief anesthesiologist was pleased to hear these stories of hope. AANA understands the right actions to help those suffering from our number-one occupational hazard, SUD. Our mission is to provide safe and effective care for every patient. That safe care starts with advocating for the well-being of our fellow CRNAs.

    Advocacy begins with you and me as we rise to the occasions of supporting our peers in need. If you see something, do something.


    Do you know someone who is struggling? The AANA Helpline (800-654-5167), in partnership with Parkdale Center for Professionals, offers confidential individualized 24/7 support for CRNAs/SRNAs struggling with unhealthy use of alcohol or other drugs.