NYC Health + Hospitals recently launched its Peer Academy program to help recruit and train community members who will become state-certified peer counselors and support behavioral health patients. Modeled after critical internship rotations in nursing, social work, and other disciplines, the new Peer Academy program is a first-of-its-kind for the public health system. The internship’s first cohort will provide 25 community members with lived experience within the behavioral health space and long-term behavioral health recovery patients the opportunity to support patients with serious mental health challenges and substance use disorders. These trainees will undergo in-person and online training by NYC Health + Hospitals’ staff and then be placed in rotations throughout the system. Once the training is complete, trainees will then be eligible to apply for jobs within the system. The inaugural Peer Academy cohort will join the nearly 100 existing peer counselors throughout the public health system.

“Our public health system continues to be a leader in hiring and employing peer counselors who are individuals using their lived experience of mental health and substance use challenges to support others in recovery,” said NYC Health + Hospitals Deputy Chief Medical Officer for the Office of Behavioral Health Charles Barron, MD. “We have been in the forefront of integrating peers into the workforce for years and our Peer Academy is the next innovation in maintaining our health system’s position in recovery-oriented services delivered by peer support workers.”

Applicants selected to participate in the Peer Academy program will undergo in-person classroom and online training in mental health and addiction services, and internship rotations throughout the behavioral health system. NYC Health + Hospitals is using a variety of existing curricula to inform its Peer Academy’s training, including Peer Support for the 21st Century, which has been used successfully in Arizona and California, as well as substance use recovery training approved by the New York Certification Board, and more. Rotations will include, but are not limited to, inpatient and ambulatory psychiatry, chemical dependency programs, medical emergency departments, and Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program.

Trainees will be shown how to engage people in crisis and help connect them to care and navigate within the community. They will also be taught how to use their lived experience appropriately for the benefit of patients while still maintaining healthy boundaries, and participate in work readiness and professional development workshops led by experienced training staff who are themselves peer practitioners. The in-person classroom and online training will be two months, and the following two months will include rotation. Once the training is complete, trainees will then be eligible to apply for jobs within the system.

Once the training is completed, the cohort will work with appropriate patients with serious mental health challenges, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and panic and anxiety disorders, to all forms of substance use challenges.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 2020 Behavioral Health Workforce Report calls for an increase in the peer professional workforce, recommending that the nation increase that workforce by more than 1 million staff based on a review of evidence-based models of care.

To apply for the NYC Health + Hospitals Peer Academy program, eligible New Yorkers must be at least 18 years of age, have a high school diploma or GED/TASC, and have lived experience of a mental health or substance use challenge. Those interested and eligible can apply here by Jan. 21, 2022.

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