County mental health department considers new peer specialist position

(Photo via the Cortland County Mental Health Department)

The Cortland County Mental Health Department may soon expand its peer programming.

At Tuesday's County Health and Human Services committee meeting, director of community services Sharon MacDougall spoke about potentially bringing in a part-time worker with a specialized credential for peer services.

“We have always wanted to include peers more in our programming,” MacDougall said. “All of our programs had for the first time last year the opportunity to utilize peer advocates or people with lived experience of mental health issues.”

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), peer support workers are people who have been successful in the recovery process who help others experiencing similar situations. Through shared understanding, respect, and mutual empowerment, peer support workers help people become and stay engaged in the recovery process and reduce the likelihood of relapse, based on SAMHSA’s definition. Peer support services can effectively extend the reach of treatment beyond the clinical setting into the everyday environment of those seeking a successful, sustained recovery process.

“It would be someone who has a lived experience of dealing with mental health issues or parents of someone with a lived experience,” MacDougall said. “Just last year, we saw great value in this and we saw that the revenue that was generated would be totally net neutral.”

MacDougall is looking to start the position at 17 hours per week, and part-time with no benefits.

MacDougall noted the need for the position is high, but the department wants to start with a small work schedule for the position in order to make sure paying for the new role won’t cost extra to the county.

Regarding the position’s qualification, MacDougall said the State Department of Health and the State Office of Addiction Services and Supports (OASAS) have a series of courses.

“It’s like a series of licensure classes you have to take in the afternoon,” she said. “One of our program directors has completed the supervisory requirements.”

The position will be reviewed as a formal resolution at next month’s Health and Human Services committee meeting.