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Conference spotlights peer services, health reform

Corbett Monica, Director Bruce Goldberg, M.D., and Amy Zulich
Corbett Monica, founder of Dual Diagnosis International, Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg, M.D., and Amy Zulich, interim director of Mental Health America of Oregon.

Mary Ellen Copeland and Malcolm Aquinas
Mary Ellen Copeland, creator of Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP), and Malcolm Aquinas, Peer Recovery Specialist for Oregon State Hospital.

Oct. 10, 2012 – Portland

The 2012 Alternatives conference brought more than 700 mental health consumers, survivors and advocates from around the country to Portland for four days of networking, skill-building and information sharing. The conference theme, "Honoring our history, building our future," looked back at more than 40 years of consumer advocacy and ahead at the future of mental health care under national health reform. In Oregon, that future will depend heavily on peer wellness services, according to Oregon Health Authority Director Bruce Goldberg, M.D., who welcomed attendees at a dinner Wednesday evening.

"Oregon's health system transformation legislation specifically includes peer wellness specialists, along with community health workers," among the non-traditional health workers whose positions may be covered by Medicaid dollars, Dr. Goldberg said. Already in Oregon, all but six of the state's 36 counties provide treatment services delivered by peers. More than 200 certified recovery mentors provide services to people in recovery from substance use disorders. Under health transformation, the services these specialists may provide has been expanded to include health and wellness promotion, disease prevention and intervention activities for individuals and their families.

Studies have shown that people who participate in peer wellness programs have better adherence to medication regimens, enjoy better healing outcomes, and experience greater levels of empowerment. In people dually diagnosed with serious mental illness and substance use disorders, peer-led interventions result in significant reductions in substance abuse, symptoms of illness, and crises.

The state is working closely with emerging coordinated care organizations, which are responsible for delivering integrated physical health, mental health and addictions care to people served by the Oregon Health Plan, to ensure that the new model of care includes a clear understanding of the essential role peer-delivered services play in behavioral health. "No one understands the path we are walking better than those who have walked it before," Dr. Goldberg said. "This is at the heart of the movement under way in Oregon. When we are talking about integrating physical and behavioral health, we know that the human element is as important as any medication or therapy."

In collaboration with the Oregon Family Support Network, Youth Move and the Oregon Consumer Advisory Coalition, the Oregon Health Authority is striving to increase meaningful peer involvement and oversight in the development of policies and programs at the state and local level. Oregon State Hospital is also moving forward with its own peer support initiatives with its new Recovery Services department – possibly the first of its kind in the nation. At the hospital, peer recovery specialists share an equal role with other clinicians as active members of treatment teams.