Health care agencies implement initiatives to expand use of peer support specialists in Washington


Shane Ersland


Several Washington health care agencies are implementing initiatives that expand the use of peer support specialists in behavioral health treatment.


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On Wednesday, Gov. Jay Inslee met with members of the Results Washington program, which he established in 2013 through Executive Order 13-04. Health care officials updated Inslee on project efforts to increase access to peer support services for justice-involved youths when they reenter communities, and increase the program’s capacity for partnering with peer and mentor-focused organizations.

“How do we use peer-to-peer networks to improve our behavioral health access for services?” Inslee asked. “This is important for reasons of compassion so everyone can have access to services. Particularly for youth who are transitioning out of the juvenile justice system.”

Representatives from the Department of Children, Youth, & Families (DCYF) and the state Health Care Authority (HCA) discussed various projects. 

“Peers increase the quality of care and improve the individual experience of care,” HCA Deputy Director Lou McDermott said. “Peer services play a crucial role in supporting individuals in their wellness and recovery journey. HCA has been promoting peers as an integral part of the behavioral health system since 2005.”

HCA’s Division of Behavioral Health and Recovery is the credentialing body for peer training and testing, and has certified more than 6,000 individuals since the program began in 2005, McDermott said. HCA has also been administering a peer service called Peer Bridger since 2014. It helps individuals transition from state hospitals back into their communities. HCA is currently supporting the DCYF’s efforts to expand the department’s peer services and implement a peer bridger program. 

“We are providing funding through federal SAMHSA stimulus funds and System of Care funding,” McDermott said. “We also continue to support agencies that are hiring peers and organizations such as the state hospitals and local psychiatric hospitals to host peer bridgers in their settings. HCA began a pilot project that has expanded peer bridger services into inpatient substance use treatment settings and added peers to our jail transition teams.”

DCYF Clinical Director Ted Ryle, who has lived experience in the juvenile justice system, said many individuals in juvenile rehabilitation are older and disproportionately BIPOC with a high level of behavioral health needs.

Ryle said DCYF is working with other agencies on peer-focused projects, which include: 

  • Adding a peer to Comprehensive Healthcare’s Multi-systemic Treatment program
  • Facilitating an operationalizing peer support advisory group and peer bridger pilot program at Jaspr Health 
  • Training people for a peer-to-peer mentoring program at Relevant Engagement
  • Conducting peer prep and certified peer counselor training at Students Providing and Receiving Knowledge (SPARK)

“Peers know what it’s like to be in the person’s shoes,” McDermott said. “They hold and promote hope for recovery. They have a unique and comforting presence and an ability to build rapport based on shared lived experience.”