Staff Spotlight: An Employee’s Journey with Pinnacle

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Amanda Penkova, MS, LCDC III, CADC

Program Administrator

Milford Treatment Services

Milford, Ohio

At Pinnacle Treatment, we treat everyone like family. We care about the people we work with every day, from our patients to our administrative staff to our therapists, nurses, and doctors.

When patients come to us for help, we treat them with respect and dignity. We commit, one hundred percent, to their success. The same is true for the members of our treatment team: when we bring someone on board, we commit to them first as human beings. We care about who they are, the goals they have for themselves, and how we can help them make the most out of their lives. We invest in their personal and professional development and give them opportunities to grow and thrive within our organization.

The result – in our opinion – is that we’ve assembled a team of dedicated, caring professionals who do everything they can every day to improve the lives of people struggling with alcohol and substance use disorders.

This week, we shine a light on one of our bright young clinicians, Amanda Penkova. Fresh out of graduate school in 2015, Amanda joined the Pinnacle team at our opioid treatment program Northern Kentucky Med Clinic, and has never looked back. She started as a counselor there, and now she’s the Program Administrator at Milford Treatment Services, our new opioid treatment program in Milford, Ohio.

We caught up with Amanda recently to ask her about her journey with Pinnacle.

Would you tell us a little about your background?

I received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Miami University in Ohio, in 2013, then received a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from Eastern Michigan University. I spent the last two years of undergrad working for our campus counseling and crisis center on our suicide hotline. During that time, I also volunteered as a victim advocate in the local rape crisis center, where I offered support and guidance to rape victims and their families

That was all during your time as an undergraduate?

Yes. During grad school, I worked in our pediatric autism center, observing children, managing a small caseload, and collecting clinical data on the children. I managed a research lab, trained undergraduates, put in my time as a teaching assistant, and worked as a graduate student therapist. I managed a caseload of 8-10 patients, and learned best practices for intake, assessment, documentation, and all the details it takes to become a professional counselor.

[Editor’s Note: We like to brag on our people, so we’ll take this opportunity to share that during her time as a student, Amanda received five separate travel grants to present her work at professional conferences, was presented with the Senior Service Award from Miami University, and graduated with a Psychology Honors Diploma for exemplary work and research in her field of study.]

Do you have any other credentials?

Yes, I’m currently a Certified Drug and Alcohol Counselor in the state of Kentucky, and a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (III) in the state of Ohio.

How long have you been with Pinnacle Treatment?

 Pinnacle hired me right out of grad school, basically – in August, 2015. It just occurred to me I’m coming up on my 4-year anniversary – time flies when you’re doing work you love.

Is that why you sought a job with Pinnacle? Did you know you had a passion for helping people with substance use issues?

 Honestly, I never imagined I would find myself working in substance use. I had just moved to Northern Kentucky after grad school, and I was really just looking for a good job in my field. My passion was – and is – to be a good clinician and provide quality care to people who need it. So that’s what I was looking for. When Pinnacle offered me a position, I was excited at the prospect of having my own case load and doing work in my field. I was eager to put my years of training to work. But – full disclosure – I was not familiar with the treatment model and I wasn’t sure addiction or substance use disorders was the right career path for me. My attitude going in was that I’d work with Pinnacle until something better came along.

And four years later you’re still here?

 Yes. Actually, during my first week with Pinnacle, I had another job interview scheduled, but I cancelled it. Within one week, I realized I was going to be doing really meaningful work, work that mattered. Important work that was going to impact people’s lives.

Did you have any reservations about the work?

Well, that’s really what I was referring to when I said I wasn’t familiar with the treatment model. I’d never worked in MAT before [Ed. Note: MAT is Medication-Assisted Treatment] and I admit I had some misconceptions about it.

Such as?

One that’s very common: I suspected MAT was not real treatment, but just trading one addiction for another.

Do you still think that? 

Not at all. During my training at Pinnacle, my supervisor – who was amazing by the way – answered all my questions. A lot of the pre-conceived notions I had were wrong, simply because I wasn’t exposed to this type of treatment (MAT) before. Once I began to understand how medications like methadone and buprenorphine work, and once I formed a big-picture view of the goals of the treatment and what to expect, the stigma I had as a professional was soon extinguished. When I began working with our patient population, I realized these are just normal everyday people, just like you and me. I think being a good clinician is having the ability to recognize that you, yourself, can have biases and fall victim to stigma just like everyone else.

Was that difficult to overcome that prejudice?

Well, one thing you learn when you train as a scientist is that data and evidence have the final word, not your personal opinions. So in that way, it was easy. You can’t argue with numbers. When I saw the data on MAT, and witnessed firsthand how it helped people, my preconceptions were completely shattered. In less than a week, I changed from MAT skeptic to MAT advocate. I quickly learned it is more than just medication, it’s more than what people think it is.

And that’s because? 

It works. And there’s data to prove it.

Okay, let’s switch gears and talk about your journey at Pinnacle. You started as a counselor? 

Yes. I started as a counselor in August of 2015, was promoted to a training coordinator in March of 2016, became a clinical supervisor in August of 2017, all at NKY Med, and then landed here at Milford as the program administrator in January of this year.

So you started as a counselor and now you’re head of a clinic, correct?

Yes. If you’d told me when I first came on board at Pinnacle that I’d be running my own clinic in less than five years, I would have seriously questioned your judgment. Yet here I am. Really, I just show up every day and do my job the best I can. I now know growth is definitely possible in this company, even if you don’t expect it. If you work hard, if you’re dedicated, growth is possible.

[Ed. Note: Amanda is the kind of program head you’ll see sweeping the parking lot in the morning before she opens her clinic doors, saying hello to everyone in the waiting room, and going out of her way to make personal connections with her patients and staff every day. We did not promote her by accident.]

Now that you’re an administrator, do you miss the one-on-one interaction with the patients?

Oh I still have that. I’m connected to all my patients. Another thing I should mention: I was a little nervous about applying for my new position. I wasn’t sure I was qualified or that I could handle it. But my superiors – and my husband – assured me I was more than ready and that I should go for it. So I did. And I got the job.

That’s great. In your new position, you still get to interact with the people you’re helping?

Yes, they keep me coming into work every day. When I was a counselor at NKY Med, I used to have a case load of about 50 patients, and then as a clinical supervisor, I was responsible for roughly 400. Today, by running a clinic and supervising staff, I’m able to touch even more lives, not just my direct case load. I make a point to go to the lobby every day, say hello, and ask how our patients are doing. We stress respect, kindness, empathy, and compassion – and the only way you can really do that is face-to-face. That’s what I love about my new position: I get to help more people than ever before, just in a different way

Okay, we’re almost done – just three more questions. First: How have you changed since you’ve arrived at Pinnacle?

Well, professionally, I’ve become a real clinician. I’ve learned all the procedures, policies, and paperwork practices that come with the job, but what I really mean is that I’ve gotten better at helping people get from where they are, which is usually a not-so-great-place, to where they want to be. I’ve learned to empower people to live the lives they want to live.

Second: How has Pinnacle changed since you’ve arrived?

The rapid growth has been amazing. Today we serve upwards of 17,000 patients a day in six states. That’s a double-edged sword, though. It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to grow, because that means more people are hurting. I will say this—the people who work for this company want to help people, and I work here because I believe in what we’re doing. We’re responding to a growing need in the country and going where people need our help, which is basically everywhere.

And what’s really ironic is that if we all do our job right, we’ll put ourselves out of business. We’ll work ourselves out of a job. Because for us, an ideal world would be one where no one battles addiction – which would mean no need for treatment. On the other hand, the reality is, while every day someone finds recovery, at the same time, there’s another person who finds their own struggle with addiction. So I do think there will continue to be a need for the services we provide.

Okay, last question. In your opinion, what’s the one thing people struggling with addiction need most from our society right now?

People need our support, understanding, and compassion. Individuals who have outside support are much more likely to be successful in their treatment – outside support meaning their friends, family, co-workers, everyone who matters. If they’re on board, it goes better for the person in treatment. Second, we need to understand that addiction knows no social, economic, or cultural barriers. It affects people from all walks of life. From the highest paid CEOs to minimum-wage earners, addiction can happen to anyone. Third, we need to see and understand addiction as a disease, not a character flaw. Our patients are human beings with a chronic, relapsing medical condition. We need to help them.

And what’s your response to that?

People who walk through our doors are asking for help, so let’s do that, in any way we can.