Speaking up at the mental health redesign meeting

Yesterday I received an email about the mental health task force continuum of care action team meeting. I scurried out to the Milwaukee mental health Complex this afternoon. Although I arrived late I had a major impact. As is customary with these kinds of meetings, I added a little local color. This is due to my background  as a Certified Peer Specialist of Puerto Rican heritage. Combined with Polish, of course.

For those who may be unaware, there is a major expansion of Peer Specialist services underway throughout Milwaukee. Employers are posting positions for certified peer specialists and there is a scramble to locate the certified peer specialists who are either unemployed or working outside the profession. At the same time we  also need to assess the strengths and weaknesses of Wisconsin peer support system. This reflects the concerns expressed during Empowerment Days  in Madison.

We are rapidly evolving from a peer specialist model in which one agency hired the majority of the peer specialists and provided a lot of the training to one in which many agencies hire peer specialists  and another entity provides the training. Under the laws of capitalist supply and demand, the increasing number of peer specialists will force lower paying agencies to raise their wages of be left with the lower skilled workers.

At the same time, we need to pay more attention to the problem of peer specialists as employees. One of my recommendations to the Continuum of Care Action Team is to focus more effort in that area. I brought out examples of peer specialists who were extremely poor listeners and did not last long as employees. We need to create support groups in Milwaukee and possibly other cities where peer specialists can talk among ourselves. In addition we need  to create a telephone line people can call to talk with someone about their professional struggles with someone who has experience in the field. This is the natural evolution of our profession. As the Wisconsin motto says, forward.


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