At the initiation of Commissioner Doug Varney a work group has been set up over the last months to investigate and consider the future of peer support in Tennessee. They have just issued their final report and it is great. Kudos to everyone involved. Kudos to Commissioner Varney.
Below are the recommendations and conclusion:
Set up an ongoing process to educate all providers at all levels within the behavioral health system in the state of Tennessee to the role of Peer Specialists and the value of their unique contribution.
Standardize and improve certification training requirements for Peer Specialists, including a testing component to ensure basic competency.
Implement a system of training for supervisors of Peer Specialists.
Develop a forum in which to address the ongoing dilemma of utilizing grant-funded dollars and Medicaid fee-for-service funding to provide peer support services.
Assist behavioral health care providers in developing the necessary infrastructure to provide and expand Medicaid-funded peer services.
Provide financial incentives to the behavioral health provider community to implement the models of providing peer support services.
Broaden scopes of services to allow proposed peer support models to be integrated into new and existing programs, e.g., addressing educational requirements, when appropriate.
Give consideration to expanding the utilization of Peer Specialists in future RFPs, scopes of services and/or agreements with managed care organizations.
Provide a balance between the best practices carried out in today’s Peer Support Centers with the social integration and linkage to available community resources that were highly valued and experienced by participants in the previous Drop-in Center model.
Identify and/or develop an instrument to measure the efficacy of peer support services.
After completing its work together, which included an extensive review of research literature and various models of providing peer support services, the Peer Support Work Group values Tennessee’s infrastructure of Peer Support Centers now more than ever, particularly as safe, healing environments where one can enjoy opportunities for socialization. Isolation and marginalization of adults diagnosed with serious mental illness both results from and causes stigmatization and obstructs the social inclusion so integral to recovery. Decades of experience and a robust professional literature on outcomes demonstrate that meaningful activity in welcoming groups contributes significantly to treatment adherence and reduction of relapse. Peer Support Centers can offer therapeutic, healing environments in which socialization can occur on a graduated basis within the context of the larger community. Positive examples of such activity include community help projects; neighborhood gardening; attendance at sporting, celebratory, entertainment, or other public events; voting registration and casting ballots; GED preparation; attendance at faith-based events; shopping or “window shopping;” eating at restaurants; using public transportation; and accessing supportive or independent housing that is scattered across communities and integrated into neighborhoods. When socialization within a peer-run center is needed or preferred, for reasons of confidentiality, comfort, consumer confidence or convenience, then this should be included as one of several graded steps toward autonomy and recovery. With socialization comes integration.
The Peer Support Work Group also values the unique contribution that Peer Specialists make to the behavioral health system in Tennessee and, based on its research, envisions a number of possibilities for expanded roles. As Tennessee continues to transform its behavioral health care system to emphasize recovery, Peer Specialists will play an increasingly integral part. Tennessee’s existing infrastructure of Peer Support Centers serve as a natural place for those people who want to move into the role of Peer Specialist to hone their skills in a safe environment at their own pace. In addition, Peer Support Centers provide a safe place where consumers can learn social skills from peers who can look past their symptoms and hold out hope for recovery. The Group recognizes, however, that the Peer Support Centers could be improved, particularly in terms of integrating participants within their communities. As the state continues to improve its certification program for Peer Specialists, opportunities to expand into the various peer support models can be realized, which in turn increases the opportunities for Tennesseans who have serious mental illness or co-occurring disorder to benefit from peer services and move forward in their recovery journeys.