April 24, 2024

NYC Health + Hospitals Expands Behavioral Health Workforce with 50 Peer Academy Graduates

NYC Health + Hospitals Expands Behavioral Health Workforce with 50 Peer Academy Graduates

The Peer Academy trains peer counsellors, who use their lived experience with substance use or mental health conditions to engage with patients

NYC Health + Hospitals has the largest hospital-based peer workforce in the city

July 24, 2023

Peer Academy graduates who now work as peer counselors at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst

New York, NY

NYC Health + Hospitals announced today that more than 50 people with life experiences with mental health or substance use conditions have reached out to become counselors. Twenty-five of the 38 graduates in the first two classes were hired as peer counselors, and 17 of them work within NYC Health + Hospitals. Twelve additional students graduated from the program this month. Peer counselors are able to connect with patients who traditionally have difficulty sharing their life experiences. Peers are living proof that recovery is possible, and they are very talented at inspiring hope in those they serve. NYC Health + Hospitals currently has 86 peers system-wide, the largest hospital peer workforce in the city. In addition to the self-directed hours required for State certification, the program includes six weeks of classroom training and a six-week full-time hospital internship with rotations in the inpatient mental health unit, emergency department, and mobile crisis teams. Peers Academy staff work with students to help them find and maintain employment for up to six months after graduation. The next session of the Peer Academy will take place in the fall. Applications are available here.

“Peer services are a critical part of the behavioral health care we provide to our patients,” it said NYC Health + Hospitals Co-Deputy Chief Medical Officer and System Lead for Behavioral Health Omar Fattal, MD, MPH. “We are proud to continue our investment in the city’s behavioral health workforce through our Peer Academy, which trains people with life experiences with mental health or substance use disorders to become peer counselors. NYC Health + Hospitals is proud to have the largest hospital peer workforce in the city, and is excited to continue expanding this valuable role for New Yorkers.”

“The Peer Academy was unlike anything I’ve experienced,” he said Regina Fambro, CRPA-P, Peer Consultant at NYC Health + Hospitals/North Central Bronx. “I went from living in a world where I didn’t feel like anyone understood me, to being in a room where 20 people can easily relate to me. That was huge for me. We learned through classroom instruction and were hands on during our internship. We built a family among ourselves through community building exercises. We supported each other but we were also accountable. Our team laughed, cried, and danced together. The Peer Academy prepared me for my current role as a Peer Counselor by giving me the confidence to open up and be able to help patients I encountered, it increased the amount of empathy I already had for people, it allowed me to learn appropriate ways to advocate for my patients and ensure they are treated for their illness and not their condition whether it is substance abuse or mental health.”

“The Peers Academy has given me this great opportunity to encourage and support other people suffering from addiction, so they don’t have to go through it alone,” said Jack Chudasama, a student in the first cohort of the Peer Academy who is now a Peer Consultant at NYC Health + Hospitals/Elmhurst. “For 30 years, I struggled with addiction, so being a peer counselor has been good for my own recovery. It grounds me and gives me a strong sense of purpose.”

“For years, I saw a psychiatrist and a therapist, but when I started working with a peer counselor and going to a peer support group, I had progress,” said Brian Pelzer, who receives services at NYC Health+ Hospitals/Woodhull. “You are with other people who have similar problems, and you realize that you have nothing to be ashamed of. I reconnected with my family, and learned techniques that help me in my daily life. Now I go to my group every week, and it’s part of my recovery.”

An important part of the system’s workforce development efforts, the Health + NYC Hospital Peer Academy is a comprehensive workforce development program that trains individuals who have experienced mental health or substance use challenges to become peer counselors employed by a hospital system.

Peer counselors are an important and growing profession in the field of behavioral health, but the positions are difficult to fill. Prior to the creation of the Peer Academy in 2022, NYC Health + Hospitals had the highest vacancy rate of any behavioral health profession for peer counselors. NYC Health + Hospital’s peer counselor workforce continues to grow, as more programs and services expand their use of peer services, and the vacancy rate remains high.

The Peer Academy includes the self-directed and classroom learning hours required to become a Certified Mental Health Peer Specialist and Certified Substance Use Recovery Peer Advocate State certifications. It includes over 20 hours of online workshops, 168 hours of classroom training, and 168 hours of hospital-based internship.

A growing number of students referred by system-wide clinicians are former patients of NYC’s Heath + Hospital, who are in recovery but have very limited work histories. Participating in the program is of great interest, as it is a job that imbues one’s life with meaning and purpose. The work is also attractive because it is a unionized, City job, with built-in career ladders and plenty of opportunities to grow at a large organization.

# # #

MEDIA CONTACT: Press Office, 212-788-3339

About NYC Health + Hospitals

NYC Health + Hospitals is the nation’s largest metropolitan health care system. We are a network of 11 hospitals, trauma centers, neighborhood health centers, nursing homes, and post-acute care centers. We are a home care agency and health plan, MetroPlus. Our health system provides essential services to more than one million New Yorkers each year in more than 70 locations throughout the city’s five boroughs. Our diverse workforce of more than 43,000 employees is uniquely focused on empowering New Yorkers, without exception, to live the healthiest lives possible. For more information, visit www.nychhealthandhospitals.org and stay connected Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *