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ASU alumna pulls from program experience to launch nonprofit following COVID-19 loss

Amanda Goodman

As a provider, Samantha Casselman has always worked in a family-centered setting. The two-time ASU Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation alumna began her career at Phoenix Children’s Hospital as a registered nurse in 2009 and then became a pediatric nurse practitioner in dermatology in 2015.

When her father was hospitalized last year with COVID-19, she was expecting a similar culture and holistic approach in the adult acute care setting.

“We just did not get that with my dad,” said Casselman. 

Sadly, her dad, Timothy Reardon, a longtime West Valley public servant, did not recover. He died in the hospital last September. 

It was a devastating loss made all the more heartbreaking by the fact that she could not be there with him in his final moments.

“Recognizing the gravity of all the people who’ve passed away from coronavirus and if all of these individuals are experiencing even a snippet of the frustration that we encountered, then why not try to make that better for other people?” she said.  

Casselman explained that it’s in her nature to see gaps in care and then find ways to fix them. It’s one of the reasons she was so successful in Edson College’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program.  

The gap she recognized when it came to her father’s situation was a lack of consistent communication. Due to pandemic restrictions, she was not allowed to visit and updates were hard to come by, especially once her father was unable to speak or text. 

She doesn’t fault the providers for this; instead, she says this experience exposed a systems issue, and one of the ways she hopes to address it is through her new nonprofit.

Launched in December 2020, Speaking Life is very much still a work in progress, but Casselman says the main goal is to bring balance to the health system and promote family-centered care one organization at a time. 

And although she created the nonprofit, this is definitely not a solo mission. 

“My goal is to form a greater community alliance around what our community can do to help health care. What needs to be added to health care, especially for adults, is going to take a lot of time, resources, encouragement and also support from the community, whether it be volunteers or financial, because it is a giant culture change,” she said. 

One of her first initiatives revolves around improving the flow of information to families if their loved one is experiencing a medical emergency or hospital stay. 

“What I can see is there’s room for better communication, and that wasn’t something that was brand new with the coronavirus — it was just exacerbated by it. So to me, the goal really is how can these organizations realize what was always maybe a little deficient and capitalize on improvements,” Casselman said. 

She says her time at Edson College has come in handy in this new endeavor in a few different ways. Specifically, she credits the DNP program with helping her to shift her mindset to see that she is more than just her job title. 

“The DNP program allowed me to see my potential as a nurse practitioner beyond the clinic,” she said. “In the doctorate program, they focus more on thinking outside the box, program development and innovation, and so my goals have always extended past the point where many practitioners may consider for their future.”

Her connection to her alma mater has also helped build relationships with university entities such as the Center for Mindfulness, Compassion and Resilience for partnerships on future programs. 

In order for Speaking Life to be effective, Casselman says community partnerships are key, but so is community feedback. To that end, she’s seeking advocates to not only volunteer but to provide feedback on developing a meaningful educational program for the community. 

Over the last six months, she has received a lot of support and mentioned two organizations that have come alongside to really help her get things moving. 

“Hope Heart Heal is a nonprofit started by Amy Webster, a pulmonary nurse practitioner, and she has been a great mentor and provided me fiscal sponsorship, which has been huge,” said Casselman.

LifeBridge Community Alliance, which is affiliated with her church, is the other organization she mentioned as being a major supporter of the nonprofit.

For now, Casselman is focusing on how best to use the funds people have generously donated in her father’s honor. She wants to ensure the money goes to programming that will make an impact.

As for what her dad would think of her most recent attempt to make health care more functional? Casselman has a pretty good idea.

“I know he would be proud. I think he would love for me to help the first responders and encourage me not to get too carried away.”

To learn more about Speaking Life, visit speakinglife4u.org.