Peers in recovery are often advocates and educators. Ripple believes that through sharing our stories and experiences, we can raise awareness while fighting for a world free of stigma. It is also common for members of the mental health and addiction recovery community to be interviewed or write letters to editors and their elected officials. In Connecticut, there are hundreds of active peer advocates, and as members of Ripple, we are proud to stand among them.
This page serves to archive testimony at the Legislative Office Building (LOB) in Hartford, letters to the editor, op-ed’s, interviews and other notable encounters with the mainstream media. We hope that by reading through some of our material, you will be inspired to connect with others, share your story and add your voice to the already hundreds of peers who are working to create positive change in the mental health and addiction services treatment system.
In July, the citizens of Connecticut witnessed a victory for those living with mental illness and addiction. Gov. Lamont signed the mental health parity bill into law. With suicide rates among children up 73 percent in the last decade, and the opioid crisis taking life after life, this new legislation could not have come at a better time. One disappointment in the last session was the second straight failure to pass a law requiring insurance companies to cover services provided by certified peers. Why are peers important?
A peer is unique on a person’s treatment team, having lived experience with mental illness or addiction; it creates trust between themselves and the person they are trying to help. A traditional mental health treatment team has several professionals; these may consist of a talk therapist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and so on. It is often against policy that any professional disclose experiences they might have had with mental illness or addiction with their client. A peer will share their story with whoever they are working with and use it as a tool creating common ground. It generates hope by demonstrating that recovery is possible. Peers have been using these methods for decades.
Alcoholics Anonymous started back in 1935; it’s an organization of people from all walks of life who come together in self-supporting groups all over the world. Thousands have found encouragement and hope from people just like them, people who knew what it was like to fight addiction. This method, peer to peer support, is proven to help in other areas of life as well. From grief support groups to trauma survivors and victims of sexual assault, it is a basic need to be in a safe space with people who understand you.
The bill that failed was HB 5270, titled: “An Act Concerning Peer Support Specialists and Requiring Health Insurance Coverage for Outpatient Peer Support Services Provided By Certified Peer Support Specialists.” Being a short legislative session in 2020, peer support services might not be readdressed and could be tabled until 2021. Why can’t we afford to wait? Once this law passes, doors open to services not yet available in Connecticut, as an example, a Peer Respite. A respite environment is similar to what’s found in a bed and breakfast. It’s a warm homelike setting, non-threatening and welcoming.
Respites are methods of diversion redirecting a person from a psychiatric hospital to a short-term voluntary program staffed by certified peer supporters. Anyone experiencing a decline in their mental well being can sign themselves into a respite, they typically stay 3 to 5 days, and clients are free to come and go as they please. Today, in Connecticut, a person experiencing psychosocial stressors only has hospitalization as an option. A traditional hospital costs an average of $2,000 per night. A person brought in through the ER adds about $5,000 to their bill. A respite could cut the per night cost in half, and ER fees are eliminated.
With thousands of hospital stays every year, it is easy to see how costly the old way of doing things can be. In an April 2018 article, the Connecticut Mirror reported a yearly cost of more than $560,000 per patient per bed at the Connecticut Valley Hospital. What do you need to know? First, peer support is evidence-based and proven with years of success. Second, it’s cost-effective and will save more money with every peer added to the workforce. Third, there is a shortage of mental health professionals across the country. In Connecticut, there are more than 1,100 trained Peer Specialists who could enter the workforce immediately. Lastly, the state believes in the effectiveness of a peer system. The Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services continues to fund the organizations tasked with the training and certification of these peers.
Mental health is important. It’s necessary to provide the best services possible to those who need it. One in every five people in the United States lives with mental illness. As a community, we can’t wait until 2021 to bring this resource online. If you believe in what peer support can bring to the table, I encourage you to write your state representatives and senators today. Ask them to support and pass the legislation to get Certified Peer Specialists into the field as soon as possible. The next legislative session starts on Feb. 5, 2020. Don’t let another year pass without action from our leaders in Hartford.
Jeffrey Santo is a Norwalk resident.
In early July Gov. Ned Lamont signed the mental health parity bill into law. Insurance companies will soon be required to provide annual reports that detail their mental health and substance abuse recovery coverage. Why is this so important to our community?
In October of 2012, the World Health Organization called depression a global crisis. On average, we lose 16 veterans and four active-duty personnel/reservists a day. In a March 2018 article, USA Today reported the suicide rate for children and teens between the ages of 10 and 17 was up an average of 73 percent from 2006 to 2016. USA Today also reported in April of 2018 that more officers and firefighters died of suicide than line-of-duty deaths in 2017.
There is a tremendous need for mental health, and just as it is in areas of education, homelessness, and nutrition programs, the funding required to support the services is in short supply. I am writing this letter today with the hopes of starting a conversation, one that could perhaps lead to fresh ideas and better ways to get people the help that they need.
In 2017 Connecticut made national headlines when reports of patient abuse surfaced at Whiting Forensic Services on the Connecticut Valley Hospital campus in Middletown. This July members of the Whiting state task force questioned whether patients would be treated more effectively in another facility. I believe one problem with the entire mental health system is that no one knows what effective inpatient care looks like, mainly because long-term inpatient stays are not productive.
My mental health diagnosis is depression, PTSD, and generalized anxiety disorder. It is estimated that one out of every five people in the United States live with some form of mental illness. It is also estimated that one out of every two people will experience a mental health crisis at some point in their lives. To properly care for all these people, the resources needed would bankrupt most states. I want to describe what the average inpatient setting looks like through the eyes of someone who has been in several different facilities, including Whiting.
Over 80 percent of our days on a mental health unit are spent drawing, writing, watching television, talking to other patients, or just sitting idle. We may talk to a social worker for 30-to-45minutes. If we see a psychiatric professional that day, the average interaction lasts fewer than 20 minutes. If we are lucky, there could be a couple of groups on weekdays.
Weekends are not productive at all, with most of the professional staff off the clock. A 24-hour-day living in an inpatient treatment setting roughly consists of 10-to-14 hours of sleep. Two to three hours are used up in professional interaction with doctors and staff. About an hour and 30 minutes by meals, and the remainder of the time is passed by whatever method the patient has access to on the unit. My question is, why does this service cost anywhere from $1,500 to $2,000 a day?
In a November 2017 article, the CT Mirror reported that the estimated yearly cost for a bed at the Connecticut Valley Hospital was as much as $560,000. Anyone who takes a close look at the numbers involved versus the services provided can easily see that we are not getting our monies worth.
I agree that insurance should cover services related to mental health and addiction recovery. With that said, I also think it’s fair to ask treatment providers to justify the costs that in many cases are being paid for by Connecticut taxpayers.
Jeffrey Santo, a Norwalk resident, is a Recovery Support Specialist.
Testimony before the Insurance and Real Estate Committee March 5, 2019
HB 5270: An Act Concerning Peer Support Specialists and Requiring Health Insurance Coverage for Outpatient Peer Support Services Provided By Certified Peer Support Specialists.
Jeffrey Santo, RSS
Senator Lesser, Representative Scanlon, and distinguished members of the committee,
My name is Jeffrey Santo, and I am a registered voter in the city of Norwalk, Connecticut. I am a member of Recovery Innovations for Pursuing Peer Leadership and Empowerment, better known as RIPPLE. On March 2, 2018, I became a certified Recovery Support Specialist. I’ve come before you today to voice my support for HB 5270 because I believe Recovery Support Specialists bring something unique to the table. The RSS is perhaps the easiest person on a client’s treatment team to identify with and trust. We understand what it is like to be in crisis and live with mental illness. For that reason alone we have one of the most powerful tools of recovery, common ground.
I have been diagnosed with depression, PTSD, and generalized anxiety disorder. It is estimated that one out of every five people in the United States live with some form of mental illness. It is also estimated that one out of every two people will experience a mental health crisis at some point in their lives. A properly trained Peer with lived experience can be a tremendous resource on someone’s recovery journey. Thanks to the certification classes offered by Advocacy Unlimited that resource is abundant in our community and it is always growing.
In October of 2012, the World Health Organization called depression a global crisis. On average we lose 16 veterans and 4 active-duty personnel/reservists a day. In a March 2018 article USA Today reported the suicide rate for children and teens between the ages of 10 and 17 was up an average of 73 percent from 2006 to 2016. USA Today also reported in April of 2018 that more officers and firefighters died of suicide than line-of-duty deaths in 2017.
It is impossible for us to predict when a mental health crisis will occur or who will have one. No one is immune and mental illness does not discriminate. On February 23, 2019, the Middletown Press reported that a state social worker with nearly 19 years of service died by suicide on the Connecticut Valley Hospital campus. Not only was this woman surrounded by mental health professionals she was one herself. I can’t explain why she did not reach out and try to talk to someone she trusted. All I can tell you is that in my experience mental health is fluid and can change from one day to the next.
During my recovery, I have worked with Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, and many other psychiatric professionals. While it is true traditional treatment providers gave me the foundation to begin rebuilding my life; it was my peers in recovery that help me put all the pieces back together. I am living proof that peer support is an effective part of a person’s treatment plan, and the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) agrees.
Peer support is an evidence-based mental health practice. SAMHSA recognizes that a Recovery Support Specialist can be an important part of treatment for those living with mental illness or addiction. By supporting this bill, you will allow mental health providers to expand their services to clients while increasing the effectiveness of the overall treatment experience.
I’d like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak today and for considering new ways to help members of our community who live with mental illness.
Testimony before the Appropriations Committee March 1, 2019
HB 7148: AN ACT CONCERNING THE STATE BUDGET FOR THE BIENNIUM ENDING JUNE THIRTIETH, 2021 AND MAKING APPROPRIATIONS THEREFOR.
Good evening Senator Osten, Rep Walker and members of the Appropriations Committee.
My name is Jeffrey Santo, and I am a resident of Norwalk. I am a person living with depression, PTSD, and generalized anxiety disorder. I have come before you today to talk about the budget for the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.
In an April 2018 article, the Connecticut Mirror reported a cost of $567,000 a year for each patient treated at the Connecticut Valley Hospital. At the time of this Articles publication, they reported 87 patients were receiving treatment at Whiting. If Whiting has an average of 80 patients a year, the State of Connecticut is paying over 45 million dollars annually.
My question is what does a patient get for a half million dollars in services? Are you abused like William Shehadi, a man whose story led to the arrest of ten members of the treatment staff and another 37 of them put on administrative leave? Are you forcibly placed into restraints as you choke to death with a cookie lodged in your throat? That is Andrew Vermiglio’s tragic story. At this point, it would be extremely difficult for you to convince me that the high cost is related to the quality of care especially since I to was once a patient there.
We cannot continue down this path and expect anything to change in the future. We must find new and cost effective methods to treat those living with mental illness. I believe this will happen when there is more collaboration between treatment recipients and their providers. What if we found an alternative for just one patient at CVH? $567,000? The state could hire 12 Recovery Support Specialists full time at $22 an hour for a year.
DMHAS should focus in prevention, treatment, and recovery equally. Money used to focus on prevention would be directly fighting the opioid epidemic and the high rate of suicide. In a recent Hartford Currant report, we learned of a clinician with 19 years of service at CVH who had taken their own life at the hospital. This was a person surrounded by mental health professionals trained in noticing the signs of someone experiencing suicidal ideations.
Why is prevention so important to me? I was lucky enough to survive my attempt, and not everyone gets a second chance. On average we lose 16 veterans and 4 active duty personnel or reservists a day. It is estimated that there are two suicide attempts per secondary school per year in the United States. There are over 37,000 secondary schools in our country. Lastly, a 2017 study revealed that police officers and firefighters are more likely to die by suicide than to die in the line of duty.
The choices we make about mental health today will ultimately determine how much we are going to pay tomorrow. Thank you for your time and for listening to my testimony today.
I have never liked the term “War on Drugs” because a drug is an inanimate object; I prefer to look at it more as a war on drug trafficking. People who live with addiction are not the enemy and we should not be waging a war with people who need our help. There are two sides to this problem, the supply of drugs and where they come from is one. The other is addiction and the stigma associated with the lifestyle and behavior of an addict. I want to address the addiction side of this issue.
First, we should never wage a war against someone who truly needs our help. We should be standing beside them and help them get a stronger foothold in the battle they are fighting against addiction. I believe the only way to win this fight is by helping one person at a time rather than addressing this as a systemic problem in our society. Not everyone uses drugs for the same reason and no two people are exactly alike. A one-size-fits-all solution will not solve this problem; if it were going to work it would have already yielded much better results.
I have never had a problem with any type of chemical addiction, I’ve been lucky. Since becoming more involved in the mental health awareness movement, I have met a large number of good people who have had treatment in the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services system. They have struggled to take their lives back and free themselves from the hold drugs had on them. Eventually I was able to take the Recovery Support Specialist (RSS) training and become certified to help people living with mental illness, addiction or a co-occurrence between the two.
Trained peers in the workforce are an often overlooked option by the state agencies trying to deal with the problems created by drug use, one of the biggest is the opioid epidemic. In Connecticut there have been trainings on how to administer Narcan, they have been free of charge and open to the public. This is a huge step in the prevention of deaths as a result of overdose, but does little to address the issue of addiction. Last month in New Haven, dozens of people were transported to area hospitals after overdosing on a tainted batch of K2 or “Spice,” which is a synthetic marijuana. A city official said 114 calls for people needing medical attention came in, at least 10 people overdosed more than once.
My RSS certificate number is 00979 and I was not a part of the last class to graduate. This leads me to believe that there are more than 1,000 certified peers within my state who are trained to help. The rapid response of EMS and police certainly saved lives, but no one addressed the fact that even though the emergency had passed the crisis was still happening for some of these people. At one point, volunteers walked around New Haven just keeping an eye out for anyone showing signs of a drug overdose. When it came to saving lives and the response of the system, it worked as it should have. I do, however, have to ask the question about the level of follow-up support considering how many people overdosed more than once.
If they want to call this a “war,” then let’s look at it from that point of view. You can’t fight a war without soldiers, boots on the ground. They need to be trained, they need to know the enemy and they need to know how to beat that enemy. Peers working in the field have been proven to be a valuable asset and they have the skill set needed to make a difference. I, for one, would volunteer and step forward to help someone start their path of recovery and I know I am not the only RSS who would.
In military terms, the number of graduates from the Advocacy Unlimited RSS trainings are roughly the same number of soldiers in a battalion. If someone from the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services ever reads this, I want you to know one thing — You are not going to win a war without troops. We are here, we are willing and we are ready.
Jeffrey Santo, a Norwalk resident, is a recovery support specialist.
Senator Gerratana and Representative Steinberg,Thank you for your service on my behalf and the behalf of others affected by the horrendous negative aspects of the mental health services system in Connecticut. My name is Jeffrey Santo, a resident of Norwalk, Connecticut and I vote. I
have been living with depression for almost as long as I can remember…
On December 2, 2008, I was arrested and charged with “Threatening in the 2 nd degree” which is a “Class A Misdemeanor”. I know this statement may seem unrelated to mental health but I can assure you it will become relevant in a moment. In 2007, when I lost my job, keeping up with my bills was impossible, especially my mortgage. On a phone call from my loan servicer I had gotten quite heated and I just before I slammed the phone down, I yelled, “You would not care if I burned this house to the ground or put a bullet in my head, just as long as you get your dammed money!”
About three hours later, I received another phone call. This time it was from the Ridgefield Police Department.
They informed me that I needed to turn myself in. The accusation made against me was that I had threatened to go to the bank and shoot someone. To shorten the story, I am going to skip to the part where the public defender I was eventually assigned had a very different idea on a defense than I did. He wanted me to enter a guilty plea and accept a deal for probation. I wanted a trial because I firmly believed there was more than enough “reasonable doubt.”
I was steadfast in my position that I was innocent and wanted to protect my record. The public defender’s office sent me for an evaluation. The end result was that I was found not competent, citing that I was being unable or unwilling to aid in my own defense. I was then sentenced to 60 days at Whiting Forensic on the Connecticut Valley Hospital campus. Even though I was sent only for competency restoration, I found myself on a unit where some people had a history of violence –
one that still stands out in my mind was a man serving time with seven counts of “felony sexual assault.”
The staff at Whiting treated us all the same: in their eyes we were all guilty, dangerous and crazy. If you tried to stand up for yourself, they reminded you who was in charge. They were!
One of their favorite things to do at night was every 15 minutes they would perform a bed check. The staff was required to make sure no one was missing, that was the only stated reason for the check. However, some of them would use their flashlights and wave the beam back and forth across our eyes in an effort to keep waking us up.
To this day, in a completely dark bedroom, I still have moments where I could swear to you I see flashes of light when I know that it is impossible. I walked into Whiting for “competency restoration” and left with nothing more than severe trauma that still affects the way I sleep almost eight years later. The State of Connecticut paid $60,000.00 for this to happen, and what truly adds insult to injury was what happened when I returned to the courtroom. I informed my public defender that my point of view had not changed and I still wanted to take this to a trial.
He said, “Then the situation has not changed. If you do not accept the plea deal, I will recommend that you be returned to Whiting for another 30 days.” While I was at Whiting, I took note of at least one other person on my unit that happen to be there for “competency restoration”. His story was similar to mine – right down to being represented by the public defender’s office. My second day
on the unit at Whiting, I told my story to the unit psychiatrist. Afterwards, he told me that, in his judgement, I should not have been sent there. But he could not send me home, however, because I was court ordered to be there.
If I take my time at Whiting and add it to the time spent there by the other individual (also there for competency restoration reasons) a bigger picture begins to come into focus. I can tell you that, at $1,000 per day, the state paid approximately $150,000 for two people, because in the final result their lawyers did not want to work with the clients the court assigned to them. At the end of this ordeal, I only wonder how many programs all over the state could have been saved or fully funded if waste like this was addressed. As a peer in recovery who uses DMHAS services, I am asking that you take a closer look at the State of Connecticut’s mental health system.
I am not asking for more money. I am asking that the money we are spending be put into the hands of the people who will use it wisely and know where it is needed most. Thank you.
Link to testimony: Note they spelled the name wrong in the records, Jeffrey Santos should be Jeffrey Santo: https://www.cga.ct.gov/ph/related/20171113_DMHAS%20Whiting%20Forensic%20Division%20Informational%20Forum%20and%20Public%20Hearing/Jefferey%20Santos.pdf
Jeff was among several people interviewed by NPR while at the Legislative Office Building (LOB) in Hartford on November 13th, 2017. Both Peers and providers came together for a hearing held by the Public Health Committee, nearly 30 people testified offering personal experience at the facility and opinions on how to prevent patient abuse in the future.
Since this article was written by a journalist it is considered copyrighted material, we will not post the article here but will provide a link at the bottom.
Members of Ripple, including Jeffrey Santo attended a free community Narcan training in Wilton Connecticut. Since this was the start of a response to the opiod crisis that has been plaguing our country it was a good story to cover.
Jeffrey was quoted as saying, “This is just another tool in my toolbox,” and “It’s one of those things that you hope you never have to use, but if you ever find yourself in that situation you don’t want to be kicking yourself, saying, ‘I wish I took that class.’”
Now Narcan trainings are offered almost monthly, now that it is common it is not covered by the media as much.
Past members of Recovery Innovations for Pursuing Peer Leadership and Empowerment have also submitted testimony and were interviewed by various media sources. Those who have moved on from Ripple are not listed in this archive, we do not have written permission on file to add their intellectual property to this site. Ripple holds no copyrights over its members content unless otherwise stated. All writings, artwork, photographs, and any other media they produce revert back to them after their separation. The testimony of past members is available in Connecticut state records and can be searched for online.