A Familiar Face at CODAC Takes on New Role

Valerie Kading_Color

Valerie Kading, PMHNP-BC, MSN, has been with CODAC for ten years. In her current role as Supervising Behavioral Health Medical Professional, she is responsible for supervision of First Avenue’s team of medical assistants and nurses as part of an evolving treatment model for improved care.

Valerie also conducts psychiatric evaluations as well as prescribes, monitors, and adjusts psychiatric medications for members. She has a specialized interest and expertise in the areas of postpartum and perinatal mood disorders for pregnant and parenting mothers. Valerie plays a key role in the planning and implementation of treatment models adopted by the agency and in ensuring the efficiency of her team. Valerie is currently pursuing her Doctorate of Nursing Practice at New Mexico State University, and is the founder of the Southern Arizona Advanced Practice/Nurse Practitioner Society.

What motivated you to pursue a career in
behavioral health care?
I was actually on track to go to law school after receiving my bachelor’s in psychology at the University of Arizona. I was a case manager for the SMI population through SAMHC.  I felt that this was more of what I wanted to do and where my heart was at. I feel a connection to helping people who are suffering with mental health issues and who are often treated unfairly by a lot of society.

What are your responsibilities in your current role?
Currently, we are transitioning to a new treatment model. A big part of my new position is making sure that the transition goes well and that we implement and plan for the appropriate growth.

Each Behavioral Health Medical Practioner (BHMP) will be assigned to their own Medical Assistant. They will work closely together to provide care to members. This allows for Medical Assistants to be responsible for more clinical skills, the skills that they have been trained to do over the years that weren’t being utilized, like injections and patient education. Nurses will be doing triage for more acute members. We want to make this as seamless as possible.

What is most exciting about the changes at CODAC?
We are already seeing an increase now with expanded health insurance coverage and expanded hours. A lot of members are speaking very highly of CODAC with their friends and family. I think it’s a very exciting time for CODAC, just looking back over the past ten years; we have grown and diversified so much!

What is most rewarding about your career?
I enjoy seeing members improve. I really think that I am in a fortunate position because I have been here for so long and have grown these long term relationships with my members. I have seen their children grow, and seen them through good and bad times. It’s good to be able to celebrate with them when things have gone well in their lives.  In that sense, I feel fortunate. When there are successes, we all rejoice and it reaffirms why we are doing this.

What do you think are some common misconceptions about individuals with mental illnesses or substance abuse problems?
I think that major misconceptions about people with mental health issues are that they are violent or lazy and don’t want to get better. People are afraid because they think that people with schizophrenia are violent and they can’t act appropriately. This requires a lot of educating.

People tend to think that mental health issues don’t affect them, but the reality is that it affects everyone. It’s very prevalent.

Other professional interests?
I have a special interest in working with pregnant and postpartum women. I see a lot of women here who are pregnant and postpartum. I would like to focus on women’s [obstetric care and psychiatry] for my Doctorate of Nursing Practice scholarly project.

When not at work, what do you enjoy doing?
I love to cook, entertain, travel and shop. More recently, I learned how to golf and I enjoy going with friends.

Featured Employee: Andrea- A Journey to Success


Andrea“I remember when I first started working at CODAC,” recalled Andrea, therapist at Methadone Services. “There was a homeless man on my caseload that had been using cocaine since the 80’s. I was able to work with him to the point where he was able to maintain a year of sobriety, get housing, and continuously progress forward.”

Andrea has worked in many different departments at CODAC. Hired as a Care Manager six years ago, she has spent time working on CODAC’s Criminal Justice Team, Court-Ordered Treatment Team, Intake Team and, now, Methadone Services.

“For me to have that kind of impact in someone’s life is phenomenal.” It is examples like these that reinforce why Andrea chose a career in behavioral health care.

In addition to her diverse experience within the agency, Andrea has kept very busy with a schedule that included pursuit of her Master’s degree in Professional Counseling, an internship at Methadone Services, and a full time job as Care Coordinator.

Most would think 12-hour days in addition to school would wear you down, but Andrea thrives on accomplishing her personal and professional goals. Now that she has her Master’s degree, she is already looking into Doctorate programs.

Andrea initially chose this career because she wanted to better understand a family member who has a diagnosis of manic depressive disorder. “There were points in time where we weren’t getting along so well, and I really wanted to understand her. I thought that this career path might help me to understand.”

“My goal is to be able to relate to members, on their level. I often hear from the Methadone population, that they feel discriminated against because they are addicts. I can relate to them because I have been discriminated against for being African American.” In sharing her experiences with members, Andrea finds that an authentic and trusting rapport develops.

Her current position at Methadone Services includes conducting case management and providing therapy services for new and current members. She has just recently transitioned to her official role as therapist.

“I want to see people get better and improve their quality of life,” Andrea emphasized. Seeing the positive impact she can have in a person’s treatment, propels her desire to help people in the community.

Andrea’s advice for both new and current staff at CODAC is to embrace change. “Change is not always a bad thing”. There have been times in my past here where I have been resistant to it, but now that I reflect back, I see that change is awesome. I have learned so much from being flexible and doing different things around CODAC.”

Featured Employee: Erin – Garnering motivation from Life’s Lows


Erin's children are her motivation for staying sober.

Erin’s children are her motivation for staying sober.

Erin’s nine year struggle with addiction is why she was motivated to work at CODAC.

She grew up in the small town of Kearney, Arizona, where she was first introduced to the drug that would impact her life for nearly ten years. Her drug use began with marijuana at the age of sixteen and, soon after, escalated to addiction to methamphetamine.

After graduating high school and meeting her Fiancé Daniel, Erin moved to Tucson. The change of scenery did not change Erin’s addiction. Her preoccupation with getting drugs meant leaving her fiancé over and over. “I had left him to use drugs 14 times,” Erin recalled.  “It was that last time that I had packed my bags that he told me not to come back unless I went to rehab.”

She listened.

Those days now seem like a different life to Erin. She recalled working two jobs, going to school, and using meth all at the same time. “I never had any money or food. I lived in the dark and washed clothes out of a tub.” She spent almost everything she had on her addiction.

“I still thought I was being productive. I would use before going to school or work… I needed it to function.”

At her lowest moment, Erin was living alone on the streets with only the comfort of her dog.  “I felt worthless,” she said.

Though Erin left rehab a few days shy of completing her program, she managed to completely quit using drugs. She briefly followed up with treatment at CODAC where she was introduced to the organization where she knew she would work one day.

Erin completed her Medical Assistant training program through Pima Community College in January of 2012 and began an internship with CODAC.

It has now been one and a half years since Erin has been a medical assistant at CODAC where she works directly with members who are undergoing similar circumstances she faced.

“When someone is falling towards rock bottom, I can lend them a hand or a shoulder to lean on and tell them that sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to get to where you need to be,” she said. “For me, living on the streets with my dog was rock bottom and I had burned all the bridges with my family. I had to give up that life to get this new life,” she said.

Erin explained that for every person, rock bottom is different and sometimes, you have to face that place before you realize that something needs to change.

“Sometimes, you need to learn that in order to get something great in your life you have to be willing to give something up. That is exactly what happened with me…It was a long hard struggle but it is well worth it in the end,” she said.

Erin has been sober for the past seven years.

Her family provides her with the support she needs to stay sober. Erin’s husband and her two children are what keep her on the right path.

Erin is in the process of beginning the coursework to become a nurse. Though she lives a busy life, she knows that she can continue to help others in this field. She is proud of her achievements and looks forward to reaching these new goals in the future.

“I feel accomplished that I was able to succeed in my recovery and become the person and mother that I am today,” she concluded.




Featured Employee: Dr. Eddie Ornelas

IMG_2262Trauma, abuse, and neglect are topics that are all too familiar for Eddie Ornelas, Ph.D., LISAC.

His childhood experiences with trauma are what fuel his desire to address the subject with youth and their families. For over twenty years, Eddie has been doing just that in the behavioral health field.

After graduating from the University of Arizona with his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Child and Family Studies, Eddie decided to pursue a career working with children who, like him, were exposed to trauma.

“I experienced a significant amount of trauma as a child and there was a lot of domestic violence in my home,” said Eddie.  “I wanted to help out another child going through that kind of chaos…That’s what really drove me in this field.”

While working for a children’s group home for youth removed from their families, Eddie realized that he wanted to further his education and began pursuing his Master’s degree from the University of Arizona in Counseling and Guidance.

In the early 1990’s he started a doctorate program at Colorado State University. “I wanted to become a psychologist because I wanted to have more say in the matter and the lives of children and families,” Eddie said.

Unexpected life events caused Eddie to put his doctorate on hold. He moved back to Arizona and began working at an internship that connected him with CODAC Behavioral Health Services.  In 2006, he officially obtained his doctorate in Psychology.

Eddie has worked at CODAC for over seven years. Currently, his position encompasses both administrative and clinical supervision for his team working with members who have developmental disabilities (DD).

“We are working with members who have not only been under-served, but the majority have long histories of trauma. At least 90% of our developmentally disabled population has experienced some form of trauma… but multiply that with someone who has autism, epilepsy, or any other cognitive impairment,” he emphasized.

Though the job can be challenging at times, Eddie appreciates that he is allowed room for creativity when it comes to developing individualized treatment and service plans for members.

Eddie’s team must coordinate not only with members themselves, but also their guardians, day program staff, job coaches and more.

Under Eddie’s direction, the implementation of CODAC’s DD Team has proven to be successful with evidence showing positive outcomes for CODAC members.

“We assist [members] with developing the skills they need to avoid a crisis situation,” said Eddie.

“We impact the lives of not only our members, but their children and future generations. It’s amazing to be part of that,” he said.

Eddie’s advice for anyone joining the behavioral health community stems from over twenty years of professional experience: “The work here is both thankless and priceless. If you can be ready for those two pieces you will go far.”



Featured Employee: Jordan Lopuszanski – Overcoming Obstacles


Jordan“I have the desire to give back to people who I know have it worse than I do,” said Jordan Lopuszanski, therapist at CODAC’s  First Avenue site.

He is referring to the emotional and physical struggles that he has endured and overcome as a result of visual impairments he was born with.

“The impairments led to more than just physical issues but also mental ones, including anxiety and depression,” said Jordan. His first eye surgery took place at the age of five and since then he has had over 20 different ocular procedures. Just last year, Jordan experienced bleeding in his left eye which he feared would result in permanent vision loss.

“I had to really reach out to family, friends, and my faith for support.” Jordan worried that the possibility of having two bad eyes would forever change his life. He became depressed but through the support he found in his friends, family, and faith, he was able to get through it.

These first-hand experiences with physical limitations and mental health issues make it easier for Jordan to relate to CODAC members. “As funny as it sounds, having those hemorrhages has made me a better therapist. I feel like I have more compassion for members who have depression,” said Jordan.

Jordan’s career with CODAC began at First Avenue as a care manager shortly after graduating from Arizona State University with a Master’s of Social Work. “I feel honored to have been a case manager,” said Jordan. “It was extremely tough, and taught me a lot about this field. I learned how to look at the problems a member faces as more than just emotional,” he said. Jordan also learned about how connecting members to community resources is essential to meeting their basic needs so they can have a strong foundation for recovery.

In June of last year, Jordan applied for the position of therapist after much persuasion from a former CODAC therapist. “I had my education but I did not have the experience,” explained Jordan. However, after two years as a care manager, Jordan took the opportunity to apply for the position and was offered the job.

“What I like about being a therapist is that you get to build deeper relationships with members. You get to think outside of the box when it comes to what types of interventions to use,” he explained.

Though he greatly enjoys providing therapy for members, hearing about the struggles and sometimes traumatic pasts can be an emotional weight.

“You can be the most positive person in the world, and every time you hear about terrible things [in members’ lives] it depletes some of your joy and happiness.” For this reason, Jordan makes it a priority to take care of himself.

“I am learning to better take care of myself when I am not at work,” said Jordan.  In implementing his own wellness routine, Jordan enjoys taking vacations over the summer to recharge and clear his mind, watching funny television shows such as Family Guy, and even having a good cry while watching Grey’s Anatomy.

Jordan’s motivational character is apparent not only in his personal life, but in how he treats CODAC members.

He has learned that through support, hope, and motivation he has overcome obstacles. His hopes are that members at CODAC are able to do the same.

“I am a firm believer in trying to speak hope into our members’ lives and to encourage them to persevere through anything because it worked for me.”


Jordan will embark on a two week vacation to Japan this summer with his family. Jordan’s grandmother is eager to learn more about her Japanese roots.

Jordan participates in endurance training activities as part of his self-care routine.  He rode in El Tour de Tucson and did the Tough Mudder, a 12-mile obstacle course. “Because of my eyes, I wasn’t able to play sports well, so overcoming obstacle courses and endurance challenges mean a lot to me.”

Advice for other CODAC staff:

“As we continue to stick together, we should remind ourselves that we are making a difference in Tucson and to remember for all of us to continue self-care.”










Featured Employee: Katrina Rodriguez

KatrinaWhen not in the First Avenue office, you can find Katrina Rodriguez enjoying her favored
physical activities: running and yoga. “Yoga centers me and keeps me out of my head. It focuses me and brings me back to the present moment,” said Katrina.

Yoga, a form of moving meditation, is one of several that Katrina embraces. Meditation and exercise are tools that Katrina utilizes to keep her life in balance outside of work.

Katrina began working for CODAC shortly after graduating from the University of Arizona in May of 2011. She chose to enter the behavioral health field to fuel her compassion towards others. “I like helping people,” said Katrina. “I like feeling like what I do makes a difference and going home each day knowing that what I did is some type of contribution, even if it is small.”

As a Care Manager II, Katrina’s role includes coordination of behavioral health services for members. “I make sure that members get the services that they need, follow up with them on the treatment plans as well as identify ways to reach their goals,” said Katrina. Additionally, Care Managers provide supportive services to enhance the effectiveness of treatment goals whether it is community outreach, education regarding programs and services, or crisis intervention.

The only reported down side to Katrina’s role is the paperwork, she emphasized. “There is a lot of paperwork and it’s actually harder than working with the members,” she joked. “Working with members is the best part.”

Things can certainly get interesting around the office, however, as Katrina recalled one of the most interesting days she’s had. “CPSA put out an alert that we needed to move all of our members out of a board and care ASAP and the supervisors and site director were all at training.” Katrina and one other person were responsible for doing this within a very limited time frame. “It was stressful, but kind of exciting because of the pressure.”

In Katrina’s role, she often times will refer members to resources within the community. However, Katrina’s favorite resource is her co-workers. “They each have an individual wealth of knowledge that they are always more than willing to share,” she explained.

Katrina explained that the reward of her job at CODAC is witnessing the positive changes in members over time. “I see people grow and overcome obstacles. They are able to handle things more independently.” Through her role, she, too, is able to make positive impacts in the lives of CODAC members.















Featured Employee: Christine Perez

“I fell into the behavioral health field because $11.00 an hour seemed like a lot of money,” giggled Christine Perez, Care Coordinator at CODAC’s Downtown Site. When Christine first entered this field in 1986, she followed the career path of her relatives who also worked in behavioral health.

Christnie PerezChristine worked at various facilities while living in Albany, New York, including the first residential facility for the treatment of the “Mentally Ill and Chemically Addicted” (MICA) where she taught living skills and activities of daily living.

In need of a scenery change and enticed by Tucson’s warm winters, Christine decided to make the move to the southwest at the age of 27.

She began her work at CODAC as a case manager at the East site and soon after, transitioned into a supervisor role. She is currently a care coordinator at the Downtown site’s Recovery Bridge where she has been for the past two years. Christine is responsible for the intake assessments, general case management related duties, and runs the intensive outpatient Basic Recovery Group.

“One of the challenges of my job is trying to get people to actually identify that they need assistance,” said Christine. “My goal is to get them to acknowledge they need help without being forced to do so,” she added.

Outside of those challenges, Christine finds heartfelt passion in the behavioral health profession. “This isn’t the type of job where you get a lot of kudos. You have to be dedicated to working with people and be willing to meet them where they are at.” Christine said. “You really have to care.”

It’s the little achievements that make Christine’s career worthwhile. “You need to look at those small steps that members make, like showing up to an appointment, coming to group consistently, and being reunited with their families.”

Christine presented a card that had been sent to her by a member who she had previously worked with. This member is currently at Las Amigas, residential treatment facility for pregnant and postpartum women with substance abuse disorders. The card reads:

“…I am 53 days sober today! Las Amigas is great and I am doing very well. Because of you I am safe and getting the help I so desperately need. I have never been sober this long in my entire life! … Thank you for helping me get the chance to help myself.”

Mementos such as these are why Christine works at CODAC. “This member was extremely challenging,” said Christine. “But now she is doing better and has been reunited with her family.”