Peer Supports: Can You Kick It?

img_0065On  Friday, 11 Phoenix-area, non-profit organizations gathered together for the 15th bi-annual Tournament of Hope. What did they have in common? Each employs a significant peer workforce to walk alongside and support individuals on the road to recovery. Oh… and they also all love a double-elimination kick-ball championship.

Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care’s Chief Operating Officer Angelo Edge served as Master of Ceremonies and participants were encouraged to leave the day with more friends than they had when they arrived. AHCCCS Director Tom Betlach was also in attendance representing Arizona Medicaid.

Today, Maricopa County behavioral healthcare organizations proudly include several thousand Certified Peer Supports staff, and twice a year this event celebrates their contributions and Arizona’s progress.

History of Arizona Peer Supports

In the late 1990s, Gene Johnson with Meta Services attended a presentation by Dan Fisher, one of the pioneers of the recovery movement, and was inspired to transform his organization. The Company began hiring hundreds of individuals with Serious Mental Illness, and would later be renamed Recovery Innovations.

Participants included CHEEERS, Community Bridges, Hope Lives, JFCS, Lifewell, Marc Center, Partners in Recovery, REN, RI International, STAR, and TERROS.

The Regional Behavioral Health Authority (RBHA) at that time was Value Options. VO (now Beacon Health Options) placed Peer Mentor and Family Mentor staff in each of the county mental health clinics and supported the birth of several Peer Run Organizations, including STAR (Stand Together and Recover), CHEEERS Recovery Center and REN (Recovery Empowerment Network). They also recruited to Phoenix champions like Bill Kennard from the Boston Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation.

Behavioral healthcare leaders Ted Williams and Paul Galdys volunteering as umpires.

In 2007, Magellan Health became the RBHA and continued the expansion of PROs, including year over year funding increases and the introduction of Hope Lives – Vive La Esperanza (focused on diverse communities, including Hispanic). In partnership with the Arizona Department of Health Services, post-recession funding restoration created nearly a thousand new peer and family roles added to traditional medical and case management teams.

Under the leadership of Kathy Bashor at the Office of Individual and Family Affairs, Maricopa County saw multiple provider organizations with traditional clinical models adopt and grow a peer workforce. For example, in 2010, Community Bridges did not utilize a peer workforce, but today boasts hundreds such positions in key service roles.

Today, AHCCCS and Mercy Maricopa Integrated Care continue advancing the behavioral healthcare system with integrated primary care services and the opportunity for peers to engage as wellness coaches. The recent grand opening of the Institute for Mental Health Research (IMHR) Epicenter for early intervention with first break psychosis is adding even more new roles for peer supports.

img_9963Pride and Peer Supports

The RI International team advanced into new territory in the tournament bracket and it was exciting to see the camaraderie and fun competition within and between the different companies and teams.

But the real breakthrough was the pride and accomplishment.

It is just wonderful to see such a rich demonstration of hundreds of people with Serious Mental Illness living in recovery, making a contribution through employment to make a difference in the lives of others and developing and strengthening strong relationships and friends.

While we didn’t come home with the trophy this go around, Kiwanis Park saw winners all around. The celebration below says it all, and is guaranteed to make you smile.

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