The history of Peer Support Specialists in Montana

History of Peer Support Specialists
Posted at 3:10 PM, Apr 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-17 21:06:57-04

MONTANA — Peer Support Specialists are those who have suffered from addiction or Behavioral Health Disorders, recovered, and then use their life experience to mentor others.

The career came a long way over the past decade to become recognized by the state.

Jason Mcnees (pictured above to the left) helps put together the medical-assisted treatment groups at the Helena Indian Alliance (HIA). It is part of his line of work to help his clients towards a path of recovery from addiction. Mcnees is a Certified Behavioral Health Peer Support Specialist and says this career has evolved over the years.

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"It's way different than it was four years ago," says Mcnees. "It was a battle to get the role licensed through the Board of Behavioral Health. It was a legislative process to allow Medicaid and 3rd-party insurer payments and that stemmed from the proof of the efficacy of the practice."

In 2012, the Addictive and Mental Disorder Division within the Department of Public Health and Human Services and recovery organization, Montana’s Peer Network, collaborated to form a task force with the aim to enhance the professional field of peer support. In 2017, the collaboration achieved its goals.

To become licensed with the state, a Peer Support Specialist must complete a 40-hour course, take a written exam, and be in stable recovery for at least two years.

Click here for more info on Peer Support Specialist requirements.

"Governor Bullock signed it into law which implemented agencies to start hiring for peer support," says Bill Deavel, the Mentoring Membership Coordinator with the network. "We had standardized training and I would say that's when this started to take off."

A recent report from the Helena Indian Alliance found Peer Support Specialists to have a nearly 80% success rate in helping people struggling with addiction achieve long term sobriety, secure housing and employment. This is compared to a 1/10 success rate without those resources. Montana’s Peer Network has had a history since the early 2000’s, around the same time the idea of peer support came into existence in Montana.

"It was really in 2008 at our Executive Director Jim Hajny's drop-in center. There was this need for people who had been through these systems, to have someone there who is kind of on the other side of the table, who understands what you are going through,” says Ashley McLean, Peer Support Training Coordinator for Montana’s Peer Network. “It was kind of happening organically before it was actually a profession that was created.”

Montana’s Peer Network now hopes to use this momentum in 2021’s legislation with House Bill 276, which would require two peer support specialists on the Board of Behavioral Health.

Montana’s Peer Network, along with other peer supporters, created a Certified Behavioral Health Peer Support Specialist Professional Advocacy and Action Committee to craft this bill.