The future is here. 2014 is the year of the peer. In economics, the cycle of poverty is the “set of factors or events by which poverty, once started, is likely to continue unless there is outside intervention.” (Wikipedia, 2014) People with mental health, substance abuse and physical health challenges represent a large portion of individuals living in chronic poverty. The implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the health activated social movement provide the integrated health community an exceptional opportunity to provide outside intervention.
Creating a national Lived Experience Workforce Development plan can establish and legitimize the lived experienced service provider as a healthcare occupation and should be recognized by the United States Department of Labor (DOL) as a billable healthcare provider category through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and managed care organizations (MCO). OptumHealth, an innovative MCO, implemented a Peer Services project in New York and Wisconsin both of which are producing remarkable outcomes. The Peer Services preliminary program evaluation results (July 2013) show members who received Peer Services:
- Have a Significant Decrease in the number of behavioral health hospital admissionsv Have a Significant Decrease in the number of behavioral health inpatient days
- Have a Significant Increase in outpatient behavioral health visits
- Have Significantly Decreased total behavioral health care costs.
An integrated study with funding and support from both the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Institute for Health (NIH) is needed. Health outcome measures should reflect the whole person. Physical and mental health are equally important components contributing to an individual’s quality of life. We need research funded to study the outcomes for both the individual serviced and the peer providing services to legitimize the impact of including and developing this emerging workforce. We need quantifiable evidence from studies examining to what degree implementing a peer workforce career ladder:
- Increases access to care
- Reduces cost
- Improves participant outcomes
- Improves provider outcomes