Success of New Recovery Peer Advocate Training Model Recently Highlighted

Initiative Updates

On Tuesday, Crain’s Health Pulse featured a story highlighting the success of NYACH’s newly developed Certified Recovery Peer Advocate (CRPA) program. While peers have long been an important part of behavioral health support, their services have only recently become reimbursable under the State’s Medicaid program. This created a new opportunity to develop a training program model that prepares individuals for a peer role within the formal healthcare delivery system.

The Program

In order to meet a growing industry need for peer advocates, NYACH embarked on a collaborative effort to develop a training model at the City University of New York (CUNY) to prepare peers for the new State certification, while also preparing students for the nuanced role of working as a peer.  To achieve this vision, NYACH worked with a wide array of experts including the NYS Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services, the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Peer Network of New York, a network of peers which provided insights into the challenges and opportunities of working in this capacity, ensuring the curriculum was authentic to the peer role, and Queensborough Community College, who worked with their faculty and a peer expert to develop and deliver the new curriculum. NYACH brought these leaders together, in addition to behavioral health experts at NYC Health + Hospitals and a dozen behavioral health providers, to provide real-time input and feedback on the newly developed curriculum and program model.

The culmination of that collaborative effort is a credit-bearing, eighty-hour certificate program covering need-to-know topics such as peer advocacy, ethical responsibilities, mentoring, and wellness. This curriculum, provided over the course of three months, fully prepares trainees to sit for the certification exam and begin work as CRPAs. Once certified, peer advocates can perform tasks such as helping peers develop recovery plans, helping peers self-monitor their progress, modeling effective coping skills, attending court and other system meetings as a support, and supporting another peer in advocating for themselves to obtain effective services. The program model is particularly unique in that connects individuals with nontraditional employment histories, many with a personal history of substance use, with a chance to earn college credits and pursue careers in the growing field of behavioral health.

First Year Success

CRPAs, who are trained and certified to provide support, information, guidance, and motivation to those seeking or sustaining recovery from a substance use disorder, are becoming increasingly valued as the City works to address the growing opioid crisis. Peer support services have been found to reduce hospitalizations, reduce recovery times, and result in improved patient experiences.

Since launching in January 2017, the program has graduated two cohorts. Thus far, NYC Health + Hospitals has offered employment to 14 graduates with plans to significantly expand their CRPA workforce in partnership with NYACH and CUNY. Community Care of Brooklyn, the Maimonides led Performing Provider System under the State’s DSRIP program, has also hired graduates and is deploying the newly trained CRPAs across emergency departments in Brooklyn.

The Benefits

In addition to those served through interactions with a CRPA—the training and employment model is also enhancing the lives of the individuals who take on these roles. The Crain’s Health Pulse article highlighted just one example of a life changed by the opportunity to be trained and employed as a CRPA. Barbara Bell, herself in recovery from a substance use disorder, has committed her life to serving individuals with similar experiences. Having worked as a counselor for a number of years, she found the constraints on the client-counselor relationship limited her ability to impact individuals.. In contrast, the CRPA role allows her to use her lived experience to offer support to someone struggling with the disorder.  As she put it “I am excited about this position and new journey as a CRPA, not as a counselor, but helping someone as a peer,” said Barbara Bell. “I know what it is to feel rejected and not loved, and wanting to give up.”

This week, the second year of the program kicked off with a new class at Queensborough Community College. In 2018, the CRPA educational model will expand to Bronx Community College to train and certify peers in a borough hit particularly hard by opioid use.

Please see the full NYC Department of Small Business Services press release here.

For more information about the program, please contact Sarah Nusbaum at NYACH at snusbaum@sbs.nyc.org.