Frontier Nursing University (FNU) alumna and faculty member Mary Ellen Biggerstaff, MSN, DNP, has a heart for serving her community struggling with opioid addiction.
Mary Ellen takes on many roles: she is an FNU regional clinical faculty member for Washington, Alaska and Hawaii; she is an Evidence-Based Practice course faculty member; and she practices in a family clinic where she has served for the past ten years.
Mary Ellen’s community of Olympia, Wa. was formed as a hub for the logging industry. With the industry’s decline, the community has suffered high rates of unemployment and an economic downturn. This has led to an increase in patients dealing with opiate addictions as they try to cope with their hardships.
A new resource recently became available to help combat opiate dependency and addiction, and Mary Ellen has embraced it with open arms. Suboxone, a combination of buprenorphine, a narcotic, and naloxone, which blocks the effects of opioid medication, has emerged as an effective opioid addiction combatant.
Last year, Mary Ellen obtained her waiver to prescribe Suboxone through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)’s 24 hour Suboxone waiver training.
Soon after she obtained her waiver, Mary Ellen’s practice implemented a low-barrier medication-assisted therapy clinic. The clinic offers daily drop-in hours with a mission of treating addiction with radical empathy and acceptance for patients. A team of experienced registered nurses (RNs) and patient advocates assist the prescribing clinicians in the clinic.
“Anyone who has worked with opiate addiction knows how incredibly challenging this work can be, not only because of its difficulty in treating it, but the behaviors that go along with the addiction,” she said.
The clinic puts a strong emphasis on outreach to vulnerable communities, especially homeless and incarcerated populations. Mary Ellen has seen a dramatic improvement in extremely ill patients after only a week or two of Suboxone treatments.
“Our goal at this clinic is to treat everyone compassionately and meet them where they are to get them the help they need.”
Mary Ellen obtained her Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) through FNU back in 2009. She began working at a family-based clinic where she still serves as a clinician. Ten years at Summit Pacific Medical Center has allowed Mary Ellen to build relationships with patients and have a lasting impact on her community.
A few years ago, Mary Ellen knew she wanted to take the next step in providing better care to her patients. She enrolled in FNU’s Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program because of her past success in the MSN program.
“I’m a big believer in FNU’s mission, and the DNP program worked with both my work schedule and my crazy family schedule,” Mary Ellen said.
In her role as regional clinical faculty for FNU, Mary Ellen has mentored many FNU students through their coursework and clinicals.
“I train people to be excellent nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners, especially to rural and vulnerable populations,” she said. “I love to see students I mentored impacting their communities.”
Thank you, Mary Ellen, for your work with both FNU students and vulnerable populations!