Peer run respites in Wisconsin

Peer support services have been recognized as effective across the country. Those of us who have survived experiences of mental illness and or substance abuse contribute our skills in many different clinical settings. We work alongside nurses, social workers, psychiatrists and others. However peer support varies from place to place depending on the location. Some people might not even consider me to be a peer support specialist other than my job title. I was lamenting recently about the powerful impact of the medical model of mental health and how many of my conversations include talking about medication. Many of the people who come to our case management agency are not receiving any form of disability payments. I have been assisting people by connecting them with disability benefits specialists who can help them apply and document their cases.

Documentation requires the involvement of mental health professionals to diagnose and prescribe medications. For the people who are already collecting benefits it can be a struggle because the payments are not nearly enough to live on. Unless you are one of the lucky few who are living in subsidized housing. And going off medication can put one’s housing at risk. I recall meeting a consumer who had a lovely apartment filled with pictures of President Obama and his family. But after a series of breaks the person was living on the street a few years later.

This is a rather bleak picture of mental health which not everyone experiences. It is a particular model but there are others. I attended a training session last fall about the progress being made by peer run respite centers in Wisconsin. There are 3 of them funded entirely by the state government. They are an addition to the array of mental health services which people may use. And they are different from the medical model. Peers run the centers without the presence of nurses, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals. And the services are not medicaid billable. I have some concerns about the sustainability of this model although it is remarkable that funding was obtained from a government controlled by republican conservatives.

I am part of a committee that has submitted a budget plan to the Administrator of the Milwaukee County Behavioral Health Division. He has expressed interest in funding a peer run respite center. If he approves our request we will submit a proposal to the Milwaukee Mental Health Board to help create a peer run respite center. At our most recent meeting we talked about whether this should be considered a regional peer run respite and should thus be funded by more than one county. Again, the issue of making the model sustainable. We want these services to survive and grow. And we were uncertain whether Milwaukee county would pay the full cost of operating the center indefinitely.


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