Testimony before the Insurance Committee
February 27, 2020
H.B. No. 5248 AN ACT ESTABLISHING A TASK FORCE TO STUDY HEALTH INSURANCE COVERAGE FOR PEER SUPPORT SERVICES IN THE STATE.
Jeffrey Santo, RSS
Senator Lesser, Rep. Scanlon, and members of the Insurance Committee,
My name is Jeffrey Santo, and I am a registered voter in the city of Norwalk. I am here to testify regarding H.B. 5248 An Act Establishing A Task Force To Study Health Insurance Coverage For Peer Support Services In The State. Unfortunately, I can not be there in person to deliver this testimony to you, but my absence should not undermine how important this issue is to me.
I am a state-certified Recovery Support Specialist and, as such qualified to work alongside treatment teams for mental health care, people living with addiction, or a co-occurrence of the two. Peer Recovery Coaches, as well as Recovery Support Specialists, are held to the same professional and ethical standards other providers are to adhere. I want to support the creation of this task force in any way I can and feel that it is a step in the right direction. My one disappointment is that this was not done before bills were put forward in the past. One example of this was HB 5270: An Act Concerning Peer Support Specialists and Requiring Health Insurance Coverage for Outpatient Peer Support Services Provided By Certified Peer Support Specialists. This bill was raised in the 2019 legislative session, and many certified peers, including myself, came to testify before the Insurance and Real Estate Committee on March 5, 2019.
We have known for a long time about the benefit that Peers in recovery can provide, as far back as 1935 when Bill Wilson talked to another alcoholic, Bob Smith, about the nature of alcoholism and a possible solution. This was when Alcoholics Anonymous, more commonly known as AA, was founded. An article written by Brian Prioleau in 2014 titled “Peer Support Recovery Is the Future of Behavioral Health” remains posted on the SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) website. In this article, he says,
“Peer support specialists are becoming more vital to the field. Mr. Cameron believes peer supporters fill an important role in the behavioral health workforce. “The real value a peer supporter has is that they are uniquely qualified to engage people with mental health issues.” In a 2017 presentation, SAMHSA answered the question, What Does A Peer Support Worker Do? “A peer support worker is someone with the lived experience of recovery from a mental health condition, substance use disorder, or both. They provide support to others experiencing similar challenges. They provide non‐clinical, strengths‐based support and are “experientially credentialed” by their own recovery journey (Davidson, et al., 1999). Peer support workers may be referred to by different names depending upon the setting in which they practice. Common titles include: peer specialists, peer recovery coaches, peer advocates, and peer recovery support specialists.”
As a Recovery Support Specialist, I am a mental health professional. I am required to adhere to HIPAA guidelines which protect the privacy of any client who works with me. I am required to take additional classes and continue my training just as other professionals in the mental health and addiction services field. To keep my certification in good standing, I must earn 60 continuing education credits every three years. If SAMHSA is right, and many peers believe they are, we are the future of mental health, not only in the United States but around the world. This task force is necessary to prepare for that future and to make sure the residents of Connecticut have access to the level of care and services they will need now and many years to come.
Thank you for reading to my testimony this today and providing this forum for all of our voices to be
Letter To A Public Official:
I wanted to reach out to you today to talk about the upcoming vote on HB 5270, An Act Concerning Peer Support Specialists and Requiring Health Insurance Coverage for Outpatient Peer Support Services Provided By Certified Peer Support Specialists. I strongly support the passing of this legislation and feel it will enhance the services available to those in the mental health and addiction treatment system.
Peer support is one of the most effective ways to break through the walls of stigma and show a person in crisis that recovery is possible; no other treatment team member can do what peers do. Organizations like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) agree that Peer Support has been proven to impact a person’s recovery in positive ways. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) uses a peer support structure and has been widely successful since 1935.
Peers have also proven their value right here in Connecticut. Advocacy Unlimited is a Peer driven and respected resource, one that the state values enough to have awarded a $5,954,460 contract. Other Peer driven groups, such as ours, Recovery Innovations for Pursuing Peer Leadership and Empowerment (RIPPLE), is entirely funded out of pocket and run by passionate volunteers. RockingRecovery.org, Ripple’s online resource, is being used by several service providers in the state to connect their clients to additional programs to improve their quality of life.
We need to make a change, and I believe adding peers to the workforce is a step in the right direction. Evidence has already proven we can be effective; all we are asking is that we are allowed to prove that and so much more.
Thank you for your time,
Letter To The Editor:
To the editor, The Hour
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.
Thank you for your time,
Letter Of Support:
From a Certified Peer – Please note this letter should be printed using your personal letterhead or the letterhead of the organization you represent. As a peer it may be important to briefly explain your role in a persons recovery as peer titles and job descriptions differ across the recovery spectrum. Also remember to date the letter and use a signature line.
May 2, 2021
To whom it may concern,
I am writing you today on behalf of Ms. ********** **************. This correspondence is to confirm that ********** has been attending a peer level support group and to document some of her progress since she first connected with us back in late September of last year.
My organization is a volunteer-run, federally recognized non-profit. Our staff have lived experience with mental health or addiction challenges and have taken various training to become certified as peer support specialists. We launched our Zoom-based late-night peer support group in response to the pandemic as an effort to connect people who were struggling during that time.
Even though our attendees were all local to Connecticut, word soon spread, and people have reached out from around the country. ********** first contacted me on September 23, 2021, via email, looking for resources that could help her get back on her feet. She was going through a challenging time and knew she needed help. For confidentiality reasons, I can not go into specifics but I can say this: it takes a tremendous amount of courage to ask for help and find the strength to work on
This is especially true while a person is still living through a highly stressful situation. Since her introduction to our peer support group 27 weeks ago, ********** has logged approximately 160 hours via Zoom and interacted with us through an open peer forum based on Facebook. The platform connects group members throughout the day and offers support as it is needed. Many people recover from stressful or traumatic events, and ********** has come a very long way in a short time.
What is most remarkable about her progress is that she is still living through the stressful event which led her to connect with us. She overcame homelessness, found employment, and has begun studying web-based coding to increase her options in pursuing future career paths. She has become a valuable member of our group, has shown great empathy, and has successfully supported others over the last several months.
Recovery is not something a person can achieve unless they are ready and willing to do the work. My experience with ********** makes me believe that she will not only recover and survive but continue to grow and thrive.