Peer-delivered services draw capacity crowd at statewide conference

By Jenny Westberg, Portland Mental Health Examiner, Jan. 14, 2013

“My life and the lives of others depend on it.”

That’s how Amy Anderson describes peer-delivered wellness services. So it’s not surprising that peer services — a key part of the CCO (coordinated care organization) model used in health care reform — were on the program for last week’s CCO Oregon conference. What’s surprising is that these services were not originally on the agenda.

Although getting a place on the program “does demonstrate a progressive, flexible, collaborative approach, ‘we’ had to ask to be a part of the conference. We hope to be asked in the future,” said Kristi Jamison, executive director of Empowerment Initiatives in Portland, who led the breakout session.

In fact, Jamison added, “This is the first time any consumer panel at a statewide provider conference occurred.”

Sellout crowd

The two-day conference, Transforming Care 2013, was held Jan. 8-9 at the Oregon Convention Center.

Jamison led a panel discussion the second day of the conference, called “Effective Community Engagement.” Every seat in the house was filled.

Panelists were:

  • Amy Anderson, CAC and Executive Board member for Multnomah County
  • Chris Bouneff, executive director of NAMI Oregon
  • Jawanza Hadley, Wellness & Organizational Development Consultant
  • Angel Prater, Director, Intentional Peer Support, Community Counseling Solutions
  • Beth Quinn, board director of Cascade Peer & Self Help Center

Backed by evidence

In 2011, landmark legislation wrote Peer Wellness Specialists, Personal Health Navigators and Community Health Workers into Oregon law (see ORS 414.665).

There is ample evidence for Peer Wellness Specialists. “A research base has been established that demonstrates that peer-delivered services are an effective component of mental health care” with a range of positive results, according to draft committee recommendations by members of the Oregon Health Policy Board.

Amy Anderson (L) and Jawanza Hadley

Amy Anderson (L) and Jawanza Hadley

A sign of hope

“The importance of peer-delivered services, in my experience, is that when we receive a service from someone who has had similar lived experience and seeking or in recovery of some sort, there is a natural connection,” said Hadley.

Hadley also said he was encouraged by the language being used by providers during the conference when discussing self-direction, wellness and recovery. “To me,” he said, “this is a sign that there is hope that we are moving away from the traditional medical model and towards the idea that everyone and anyone can recover from whatever challenges we may be experiencing in our life.”

Love, time, commitment

Anderson said peer-delivered services have been vital in helping her meet the challenges of two life-threatening health conditions, diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver.

“Without peers, mentors and community health workers in my life I would probably not be alive today,” said Anderson, whose health is now stable. “Just knowing there is another person out there I can talk with when I have my fear moments brings happiness and comfort.”

“Peers help teach and guide others by giving back, of their love, their time and finally their commitment to seeing the person improve no matter how long it takes,” Anderson said. “No one could begin to understand what facing death feels like, except those who also live on the edge.”

“Someone to walk with”

According to Jamison, “Having someone with similar life experience to go to appointments, facilitate provider contact, assist with provider appointments — someone to walk with — can not only reduce missed appointments (which providers care about) but it enables the person to learn to be a better self manager. Ideally, as they gain skills and tools, they share with others in their previous situation.”

Peer-delivered services are “based on the concept of mutuality,” Jamison said. “Everyone needs an advocate and a friend. I think providers finally understand that improved health outcomes include a truly person-based holistic approach, and Peer Wellness Specialists bridge that gap.”

Focus on quality

The conference, which was attended by over 500 people, included a video address by Kathleen Sebelius of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

“We’re emerging from a system of skyrocketing costs and mediocre results, and we’re moving toward a new system that emphasizes care coordination, prevention, and quality care rather than quantity,” Sebelius said. “This transformation will mean better health, better care, and lower costs for all Americans. But it can’t happen without leaders like [those at the conference] showing the way.”

Insult to injury

Jamison said the panel she moderated was well received and the topic resonated with the audience.

However, after having to ask to be on the program, insult was added to injury — the session was cut short, leaving no time for questions and answers.

“It was very offensive and frustrating,” said Jamison.

CCO Oregon, when planning next year’s conference, should take note.