MONTANA — In Montana, Peer Support Specialists are providing a critical connection between people suffering from addiction and Behavioral Health Disorder, and services to help them.
MTN News is learning many times they can be a cheaper and more effective resource and keep people in crisis, out of the hospital or the jail.
Lewis & Clark County has a program in place with St. Peter’s Health Mobile Crisis Team to join law enforcement in crisis situations to reduce incarnaeractions and hospitalizations, but should an individual be taken in, law enforcement like Pretrial Services Officer, Jennifer Norris, can call Peer Support Specialists for help.
“We want to be able to make sure that people have that wrap-around care that's gonna give them the greatest chance of success,” says Officer Norris. “We know that they are not gonna get that, generally speaking, if they spend time in jail. That doesn't typically solve problems for people, it tends to accentuate them.”
Pretrial services work to provide resources to individuals as they await trial, but they admit, many times they lack the shared experience that can better help them understand what might work best for an individual.
“I cannot say ‘I've been where you've been and this is what worked for me, maybe it would work for you.’ I can give people lots of options but I can't tell them that ‘I've been where they've been,’ says Officer Norris. “That's something that only a Peer Support Specialist can do."
Peer Support Specialists have that shared or similar experience. Officer Norris adds Peer Support Specialists can respond more quickly, often within 48 hours, compared to other crisis services that may take up to a week. There is also a cost savings.
“An individual goes to visit their nurse practitioner [for example] and the visit can cost anywhere from $124 to $210,” says Jason Mcnees, a Peer Support Specialist in Helena. “That same hour could be spent with a Peer Support Specialist and it costs roughly $56."
Montana’s Peer Network reported one county with 5 to 1 cost savings for crisis services utilizing Peer Support Specialists. That could amount to as much as $15 million in annual savings if all Montana counties utilized peer support.
“The Peer Support Specialist is billing at a much lower rate and building foundational relationships with the individual, helping individuals get access to community resources they may not be able to otherwise,” says Mcnees.
Mcnees says that the trusted relationships that Peer Support Specialists builds also helps other providers to be able to learn more about a person in struggling with addiction or a Behavioral Health Disorder.
“Oftentimes, I believe individuals that struggle with mental illness and addiction always hear 'this is what you have to do, this is how you are going to do it. If you don't like it, too bad.’ Having the ability to meet with somebody that is able to build positive, healthy, mentoring relationships, they may hear more of like 'what are you willing to do and how can I help you with that,” says Mcnees. “Which works to enable that individual to be positive in their own recovery, to be an advocate for themselves."
Montana’s Peer Network has conducted over six years’ worth of programs and discovered that over 80% of clients found peer support beneficial and supportive.