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Press Releases

Recovered Psychiatric Patients Join Workforce, Serve as Counselors and Mentors to Care for Mentally Ill

Advocates Applaud Patient-Centered Peer Program that Breaks Down Stereotypes and Inspires Patient Recovery

Jul 14, 2010

New York, NY

In an effort to expand patient-centered behavioral health services and radically change the psychiatric patient experience, the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) has built a cadre of Peer Counselors who have been mental health consumers themselves and have reentered the workforce as advisors, mentors and advocates for people seeking psychiatric treatment at HHC hospitals. The 48 peer advocates represent a growing trend in the transformation of the mental health delivery system across the city and play a key role in the rehabilitation and recovery model of care at HHC.
“Our Peer Counselors use their personal stories and insights to motivate and inspire patients and have a special ability to understand and empathize because they’ve been there themselves. They break down stereotypes and help reaffirm our message that recovery is possible and that individuals with psychiatric conditions can regain full control of their lives,” said HHC President Alan D. Aviles.
“When I had a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized, I saw a psychiatrist once. He didn’t ask me questions, tell me my diagnosis or explain my medications. No one told me I could recover and get on with my life. Now I sit with the patients, talk to them, hear their concerns and educate them about their diagnosis and medications. We offer consumers hope that recovery is possible – we are the evidence,” said Lisa Louis, a Peer Counselor at Kings County Hospital Center.
Most of the full-time Peer Counselors at HHC have been part of a career placement program for people with a psychiatric history. They have received vocational training focused on life and job skills development in the areas of conflict resolution, crisis management, mentoring and counseling techniques, mental health and wellness planning, and teamwork.
“The unemployment rate among adults with serious mental illness is a striking 90 percent-the highest of any group of people with disabilities,” said Joyce Wale, Senior Assistant Vice President, HHC Office of Behavioral Health. “By incorporating peers in our treatment teams, we provide career opportunities as well as a unique contribution to other patients in their recovery. No one has more credibility with patients in mental health services than our Peer Counselors.”
“HHC’s use of Peer Counselors in a whole variety of settings is making it a national leader,” said Harvey Rosenthal, Executive Director of the NY Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services (NYAPRS). “I don’t know another agency in the country with the magnitude and sweep of services that HHC provides that has this level of commitment to the Peer Counselor model, and deploys them to all behavioral health areas. Not only are Peer Counselors improving staff responsiveness and care, they are also transforming the service culture around them and that’s a win-win for everybody.”
The Peer Counselors are spread across 11 HHC hospitals, with the majority based out of the new Kings County Behavioral Health program.
“Helping people stay healthy in the community and dispelling the myths associated with people with mental illness has been a very important part of my own recovery,” said David Fuller, a Kings County Hospital Center Peer Counselor in recovery from psychiatric disability and substance abuse. “To see people leave the hospital then see them outside with a smile on their face motivates me to do my job knowing I was part of their empowerment and transformation.”
“The Peer Counselors are our ambassadors of empathy, serving as translators of the experience of being a patient and helping the rest of the treatment team to fully appreciate all aspects of this experience,” said Joseph P. Merlino, MD, Deputy Executive Director of Kings County Hospital and Director of Psychiatry said. “Medical literature tells us that peer-provided services help improve patient outcomes, reduce costs, decrease hospitalizations, reduce the need for crisis services, reduce substance abuse, and improve consumers’ employment outcomes, social functioning, and quality of life. We look forward to seeing all those benefits for our patients.”
A behavioral health Peer Counselor’s typical responsibilities include daily briefings with the mental healthcare provider teams, followed by a meeting with patients. They help patients get oriented with the psychiatric emergency department, in-patient unit or Day Treatment Program. Peer Counselors also assist consumers with a range of services, including medication management techniques, daily living tips, and also provide information on housing, benefits, and linkages to other community supports for recovering individuals.
HHC provides 1.2 million ambulatory behavioral health visits each year and over one third of the city’s behavioral health inpatient admissions and emergency visits. Their public hospitals offer comprehensive mental health services for children, adolescents, adults and seniors, including emergency psychiatric services, inpatient units, day treatment programs, community outreach programs, and help for people recovering from chemical dependency. HHC also offers special mental health programs that are tailored to patients with very specific needs, including culturally appropriate treatment for immigrant New Yorkers, counseling for individuals affected by the events of 9/11, and a program for survivors of torture.


Contact: Ian Michaels (HHC) (212) 788-3339

About HHC

The New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation (HHC) is a $6.7 billion integrated healthcare delivery system with its own 420,000 member health plan, MetroPlusHealth, and is the largest municipal healthcare organization in the country. HHC serves 1.4 million New Yorkers every year and more than 475,000 are uninsured. HHC provides medical, mental health and substance abuse services through its 11 acute care hospitals, four skilled nursing facilities, six large diagnostic and treatment centers and more than 70 community based clinics. HHC Health and Home Care also provides in-home services for New Yorkers. HHC was the 2008 recipient of the National Quality Forum and The Joint Commission’s John M. Eisenberg Award for Innovation in Patient Safety and Quality. For more information, visit www.nychhc.org/hhc or find us on facebook.com/NYCHealthSystem or twitter.com/NYCHealthSystem.