After Samuel Rodriguez, 56, died suddenly, Sovereign Health Group staff members in San Clemente who knew him were devastated. One of their reactions was a groundswell of support to name him Employee of the Month for February 2014.
Sam, who joined Sovereign Health as a House Manager on May 14, 2013, had been promoted to Assistant Lead House Manager on January 11, 2014.
On February 3, he checked into a hospital with an untreated case of the H1N1 flu. His lungs and respiratory system were affected, and he developed pneumonia. He went into a coma, and died on February 9.
Assistant Lead House Manager Ty Estrada first met Rodriguez about three years ago when they were both working for Pacific Hills Treatment Centers. Ty said they respected each other instantly the moment they met.
Lions Smell Lions
“Lions smell lions,” he said. “Whenever you’ve chosen a harder path than most, that leaves a sign on you,” he added. That mutual respect became friendship, and they ended up living on the same street.
“He had a hard exterior and a soft interior,” said Ty. “He was very concerned about others,” and what he loved about his work was the potential to help people “break out of the bondage of the streets.”
“The people that he liked, he loved,” Ty added. As a house manager, Sam “ran a tight ship,” and was known for being tough but fair. To get on his bad side, though, “you had to be repeatedly stupid or repeatedly lazy.”
Admired By Staff And Patients Alike
Tributes repeatedly cited the respect that both staff and patients had for Sam. Lead House Manager Christina Lopez said that’s partly because “he motivated people to want better for themselves.”
Christina worked through her pregnancy, and said he was always there, taking care of her and making sure she had what she needed, “but he took care of everybody.” He worked in the rehabilitation field because “he genuinely cared about people,” and wanted to give them hope in recovery, a period in many people’s lives that seems dark.
“If you needed help, he never said no,” said Ty, who managed to fast-talk his way into Sam’s hospital room and see him before he died.
A Changed Man
Sam’s background included some “extended periods of stay at the state’s expense,” said Ty. As a young man, Sam was a member of the Norteños, a Northern California street and prison gang. He turned his life around, however, and had been sober for 15 years, several of which he spent working in the rehab and treatment field.
Sam was devoted to his wife Tina and family, Ty said. They made it through the hard times, and she opened a beauty salon in Stockton. Between them, they put their two daughters through school.
At about 5 feet, six inches tall, Sam was very fit, and worked out every day, weighing about 200 pounds that was mostly muscle. He was a fan of the Oakland Raiders and the Oakland A’s.
“Sam has been a great example of hard work, unconditional love, and passion,” West Coast Director of Operations Ben Kaneaiakala said in an email notifying staff that Sam had passed away. At the staff luncheon where Sam was named Employee of the Month, Sovereign Health staff were given the opportunity to share memories of Sam, and they went outside and released helium-filled balloons with messages to Sam.