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Peer Support Specialists Walk a Special Journey

By Rebecca Gallant on 
Posted on May 28, 2021

Peer Support Specialists Walk a Special Journey

Rosary Hall has been at the forefront of treating drug dependency for nearly 70 years – treating more than 100,000 individuals with the compassionate care that is the hallmark of the hospital. To learn more about becoming a new patient, please complete this quick online form or call 216-363-2580.  

The Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, who came to Cleveland from France in 1851 and became the city’s first public health nurses, have a deeply seeded commitment to authentic listening, especially with and alongside marginalized and underserved individuals, families and communities. This spirit is carried forward in many ways, including through the St. Vincent Charity Medical Center (SVCMC) Certified Peer Support Team created in October 2020.

Peer support specialists are people who have been successful in the recovery process who help others experiencing similar situations, and have been certified by Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (OhioMHAS).

“Peer workers are important members of treatment teams,” said Michael J. Biscaro, Psy.D., ABPP (Forensic), SVCMC's chief of Behavioral Health. “Through shared understanding, respect and mutual empowerment, peer support specialists help people become and stay engaged in the recovery process and reduce the likelihood of relapse.”

The expansion of peer support throughout the service continuum helps to more effectively bridge much-needed services and create more seamless transitions in levels of care. SVCMC’s inpatient and outpatient peer specialists, in partnership with THRIVE (who provide peer recovery services in the emergency departments), engage individuals in a variety of personal outreach approaches and link individuals to care.

“We walk people through the storms in life. We help our clients put their lives back together and reach the other side,” said Jerome Reeves, who is a certified peer support specialist for Rosary Hall. “Clients open up to us because we are right where they are at. I am in AA, too. Clients are comfortable talking with me anything they are going through.”

Peer support services can effectively extend the reach of treatment beyond the clinical setting into the everyday environment of those seeking a successful, sustained recovery process. The role of a peer support specialist complements, but does not duplicate or replace the roles of therapists, case managers and other members of a treatment team.

“For example, the emergency room client seen after an overdose will have contact with a peer recovery supporter who can arrange a link to an appropriate level of care, and ensure that discharge plans are followed,” said Dr. Biscaro. “Peer recovery support provides wraparound services and continuity during the vulnerable, higher risk, post-treatment periods. In other words, our peer recovery supporters improve longer-term outcomes and save lives.”

Peer support workers engage in a wide range of activities. These include:

  • Advocating for people in recovery
  • Sharing resources and building skills
  • Building community and relationships
  • Leading recovery groups
  • Mentoring and setting goals

Peer support roles may also extend to the following:

  • Providing services and/or training
  • Supervising other peer workers
  • Developing resources
  • Administering programs or agencies
  • Educating the public and policymakers

Emerging research shows peer support is effective for supporting recovery from substance use disorders. Benefits may include:

  • Improved relationship with treatment providers
  • Increased treatment retention
  • Increased satisfaction with the overall treatment experience
  • Improved access to social supports
  • Greater housing stability
  • Decreased criminal justice involvement
  • Decreased emergency service utilization
  • Reduced relapse rates
  • Reduced re-hospitalization rates
  • Reduced substance use

In Ohio, peer recovery supporters become certified by taking an in-person training or by having three years of work or volunteer experience as a peer navigator, peer specialist, peer supporter or peer recovery coach. Regardless of the pathway to certification, individuals must complete 16 hours of online e-based academy courses, which include topics such as ethics, human trafficking and trauma-informed care; pass the OhioMHAS Peer Recovery Services exam; sign and agree to the code of ethics; and pass a background check.

“We are right there with all of our clients, especially those who have made the decision they want to achieve and maintain sobriety,” said Reeves. “Peer support helps people save their lives from addition and mental health conditions.”

Rosary Hall has been at the forefront of treating drug dependency for nearly 70 years – treating more than 100,000 individuals with the compassionate care that is the hallmark of the hospital. To learn more about becoming a new patient, please complete this quick online form or call 216-363-2580.  

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