Peer specialists: “I was able to get through, and so can you”

It’s good to have the medical expertise to help someone with behavioral health issues. But when you possess that expertise and you are talking from experience, it’s a powerful combination that can make a big difference for patients.

Reflecting a priority across the Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network in the past year, the Institute of Living assumed a leading role in integrating certified peer specialists into a wide range of departments and programs.

Raleigh Leggett and Mark Bianco were both hired as certified peer specialists, which means they are trained to use their lived experiences as people in recovery to help those who are struggling on the same path. Whereas in years past the IOL and other behavioral health centers have relied on peer volunteers to perform this role, the IOL hired Raleigh and Mark as paid employees to help patients with the crucial process of successfully transitioning from care.

Among their many assignments, the two specialists assist patients being transitioned from the Donnelly Building inpatient unit at the IOL. Discharge can often be a challenging time for patients as they attempt to make the transition from around-the-clock care to a more independent existence. Many times, patients are overcome with fear and anxiety as they wait in the “transition lounge” in the main lobby of the building for a ride to take them home or to their next care facility.

With their training and background, Raleigh and Mark are ideally suited to help such patients deal with their fears and provide assurance that everything will be OK.

The message that peer specialists have to offer is unique and vital to the mission of the IOL. Unlike other staff members, they can tell patients, “I know what you’re going through because I have been there myself. I was able to get through it, and so can you.”

Research shows that message has a powerful impact on those who are struggling to stay in recovery, helping with everything from consistent medication compliance to showing up for appointments.