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Peer Support Special program assists patients through shared experiences

Maddy Hughes / Craig Press
Medical offices at Memorial Regional Health.
Courtesy Photo

Since 2017, a collaboration between Craig community entities has taken place to establish the Peer Support Specialist program.  This program assists patients by meeting them where they are and providing trained individuals that have shared experiences to assist them in finding a healthier way to live.

The Moffat County Sheriff, Craig Police, Memorial Regional Health, MindSprings Health, Open Heart Advocates, and Providence Recovery Services all banded together to create the program in order to assist clients with mental health, complex chronic illness, depression, and substance abuse challenges.

The goal is to address a cycle that law enforcement, the hospital, and Mind Springs Health had all seen with patients, according to Amy Peck, RN, MSN, Chief Nursing Officer at Memorial Regional Health.

“The idea came to fruition in the summer of 2017 after we started seeing an increase in mental health related admissions to the hospital. Law enforcement and advocate crisis support was also seeing an increase and the group came together to start supporting these individuals who were struggling,” Peck said. 

The Peer Support Specialist program operates with funding from an HRSA (Health Resources & Services Administration) Grant in the amount of $100,000 that was awarded in June of 2019. Becca Warren and Ryan Lucas were instrumental in writing the grant in 2018. Once the grant was awarded, the group collaborated to plan the details of hiring and training specialists to connect with clients.

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Meghan Francone, Executive Director of Open Heart Advocates, emphasized the collaborative spirit of the project. “This is not one entity that’s doing this, this is a community project that everyone has come together to do. MRH has graciously housed it, but this is coming from a lot of entities to support our community. There’s been a lot of writings on why this is so needed…this is a needed service and a collaborative approach,” she said. Indeed, reports on Moffat County and the entire state prove a need for intervention.

The group hired two community members that have had life experience challenges with these issues. Eric Nehring was brought on in November of 2019, and Lynn Figone in March of 2020. 

Peck said that it is these two who “deserve the most props.” 

“They are absolutely incredible, and to watch them work with and to be there for patients that are really struggling with depression or even thoughts of suicide… it’s just been unbelievable to watch, because they get it. It’s something that they understand on a whole different level,” Peck said.

Nehring initially started off in a part time job as a safety advocate to help people struggling at the hospital, a position his therapist recommended. 

“I really enjoyed it, so when the peer support came available, I just applied for it (and said) we’ll see what happens. Then we started some training and, eventually, I ended up getting picked up in the fall of 2019.” 

The training process started off with ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training), an evidence-based training for suicide intervention and prevention, where Nehring met Meghan Francone. 

“ASIST is a two day training where we introduce an evidence-based model for assisting life, and it talks about what we do from beginning to end when we come across an individual experiencing suicidal ideation,” Francone said. “Research shows that if we use this model appropriately then we can decrease individual misuse or overuse of emergency services for mental health crises by upwards of 80 to 90 percent. If we can move this model upstream, where we are meeting people where they are and giving them the support they need in a unique, specified, and evidence based way, then we can decrease the overuse of our emergency departments for instances of mental health crises.”

Nehring enjoyed the ASIST Training. Peer support specialists also went through training done by West Springs in Grand Junction over video conference. It consisted of “a bunch of role playing and of course reading instructions,” Nehring said. 

“That was a wonderful training process to get started in what I was going to be doing. From there, I did a little over 60 hours of training with two individuals specially for the peer support specialist (position). I was then able to start seeing clients in a confident way, knowing that the skills that we were learning are to benefit our patients and our clients,” Nehring said.

Lynn Figone came upon the opportunity after making a major career change (she had worked in agricultural legislation for over 25 years) when she moved to Craig a couple years ago and began working at MindSprings Health. “During my time at MindSprings I was able to get my QPR (Question, Persuade, and Refer) Certification from Meghan Francone. I also got my certifications in adolescent mental health and first aid, and I was really intrigued and finding that this is something that was completely different from what I did. I could use my personal story and my personal journey to help others,” Figone said. 

When the opportunity came up, her boss Peggy Sammons, MindSprings Health Outpatient Program Director, said this would be a great way for her to help people.

When she came on to the group, she hit the ground running.

“I’ve learned a lot, not just being a parent, but have gotten to learn so much more and learn the ways of how I can affect change. My story is not a happy one, that my children and I went through, so I can use this avenue to help others,” Figone said.

The HRSA Grant funds will be used up within nine months. Now that they have hires and documentation in place, Peck said they are just working on financial sustainability. In a Zoom meeting on the morning of June 3rd, the group talked over next steps they’re taking, including handing out flyers and more financial planning.

“The question is whether we can get insurance to recognize this program for billing, that’s a piece that we have to work on. Currently, we are looking at several different avenues for sustainability.

Peck plans to create a sustainability model with collaborators over the next few months.


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