Carlow Alum—and Operation Safety Net—Reach Those in Need

Nikia TuckerNot long after Nikia Tucker started volunteering with Operation Safety Net, she asked herself, “How do you not take this home with you?”

The answer? You can’t help but take it home with you. Not if you have a heart.

Tucker earned her master’s from Carlow’s family nurse practitioner program in 2015 and today works for UPMC in the University Physicians’ gynecological obstetrics and reproductive office. She has spent hours as a volunteer with Operation Safety Net’s Severe Weather Emergency Shelter.

Operation Safety Net is an award-winning Pittsburgh Mercy community outreach program that serves in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy, bringing medical care and hope to the homeless on the streets of Pittsburgh. 

Research shows that people experiencing homelessness frequently distrust hospitals, says Tucker. “The majority feel they weren’t treated like human beings when they went to the hospital,” she says. She contrasts this with Operation Safety Net’s approach.

“The homeless know about Operation Safety Net, and Operation Safety Net knows their names, their camps, and where they hang out.”

Knowing names and faces can be a double-edged sword.

Tucker will never forget a young heroin addict who was pregnant after being sexually assaulted. A prenatal care visit revealed that the baby had a chromosomal abnormality and was not likely to survive. The woman was unwilling to go to a shelter or a hospital for further evaluation.

She did deliver the baby, who was subsequently addicted to heroin. A few weeks later, Tucker found her back on the street.

“The scar from her Caesarian section was wide open,” recalls Tucker.

Operation Safety Net staff convinced her to go to Pittsburgh Mercy’s Wellspring Drop-in Center for medical treatment and wound care education. That was the last time Tucker saw her.

“I couldn’t find her again. I don’t know if she is okay,” says Tucker, “but I keep looking for her—even when I’m not volunteering for Operation Safety Net. I’ll never stop looking.” 

By Drew Wilson