Thursday, November 30, 2017

The NYC Peer and Community Health Workforce Consortium

By Lori Tannenbaum, PhD, Director, Peer Workforce Consortium
Seeking to Support the Expansion of Peers in Programs Across NYC

The idea for the Peer and Community Health Workforce Consortium began May 2016 at the Mental Health Workforce Summit in New York City. A group of community health and peer workers, researchers, trainers, and representatives from managed care and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene met for the day and came up with a new initiative to improve mental health services in New York City by expanding the use of peers and community health workers to connect New Yorkers to services and promote recovery.

The Peer and Community Health Workforce Consortium is part of Thrive NYC, the $850 million plan to make sure New Yorkers get the mental health assistance they need. The Consortium will develop pipelines and career ladders for peer support and community health workers, including peer specialists, family- youth- and recovery-peer advocates. These workers provide support outside of a typical service hierarchy. We believe the Peer Workforce Consortium will impact service users and providers, as well as peers and community health workers because: 

The model works
Studies show that individuals with mental health problems benefit from having a team including peer support workers. People who use peer support better manage treatment, substance use and family problems in the community, and have fewer hospitalizations. Peers and community health workers can also help navigate health care systems, develop natural supports and lead a healthier lifestyle. 

The time is right
Changes to health care provision have come to New York City. People need more information and assistance to take advantage of the opportunities for individualized care that are now available. The Health and Recovery Plan (HARP) is a new type of insurance plan for some individuals with Medicaid who have a serious mental illness. If a person is in a HARP insurance plan, they may be able to receive Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) such as individualized vocational, educational or rehabilitation services. Medicaid redesign also aims to improve outcomes at reduced costs and with improved satisfaction with care. Through these initiatives, certified peers in mental health and substance abuse services can now provide Medicaid-funded services.

The field of peer services is growing in New York City. Many organizations are hiring peers to work in programs such as Assertive Community Treatment (ACT Teams) and Crisis Respite Centers which aim to reduce the need for inpatient hospital stays. There are more than 600 certified mental health peer specialists in New York City, and that number is growing. The On-Track programs use peers to help people with a new mental health diagnosis to get back “on-track” with tasks like work and education. Peers also staff warm-lines and crisis hotlines for people to get the support and referrals they need. 

It is sustainable
Peers and community health workers can be found in almost any kind of inpatient or outpatient program, whether it’s for family and youth, substance abuse or mental health. As someone from a service user’s neighborhood, community health workers are uniquely positioned to understand a person’s needs and concerns, while having knowledge to navigate a variety of services. 
The Consortium will share resources to enhance peer services for all New York City residents. They will meet with groups throughout the city to learn about the role of peers and community health workers, certification, workforce development issues and the integration of health, mental health, and substance abuse services. 

How you can get involved?
1) Use peer services.
If you use mental health, substance use, youth or family services and don’t yet work with a peer, please consider talking with a peer or other staff member to explore how working with a peer may benefit you. If there are no peer staff where you receive services, consider suggesting that program leadership add peer services to help create a stronger recovery focus and better health outcomes.
2) Train to become a peer
There is currently free training available through Thrive NYC for mental health peer specialists, recovery peer advocates and family peer advocates. 
More information about training to prepare to become a Certified Mental Health Peer Specialist can be accessed through Thrive at Work at:

Learn about upcoming training dates for Certified Recovery Peer Advocacy training by emailing Lila Boyer at or calling her at 347-396-4992.

The Parent Empowerment Program (PEP) helps to prepare for Family Peer Advocate work and can be accessed for free in October through or by calling Nancy Craig at Families Together NYS at 716-432-6238. The next PEP will be held 10/30/17-11/3/17 at the FRC Eastern Queens at St John’s Hospital, 148-45 Hillside Ave, Jamaica NY. Updated information and Registration can be obtained at

3) Peers and Community Health Workers--Please take our survey!
If you are currently working as a peer in health, mental health, substance use, youth or family services please take our survey by copying and pasting the following address into your Internet browser:
This survey will help identify where peer and community health resources can be found, and will help determine current wages, working conditions and satisfaction in these areas. Results are confidential and there is a small incentive to participate. 
4) Contact us
If you have anything you would like to add to the conversation around developing the peer workforce, please contact Consortium Director Lori Tannenbaum at or by calling 347-396-4995.

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