On Thursday, April 18th, the NYC Peer and Community Health Worker Workforce Consortium convened over sixty stakeholders at CUNY Graduate School for Public Health for an event to “kick off” its new toolkit. The toolkit offers guidance to provider organizations who are interested in advancing the involvement of peer specialist or community health worker employees.
Peer Specialists provide support by drawing upon their own experiences with mental health/substance use challenges. They convey a message of hope and empathy by sharing their wellness and recovery processes to help individuals achieve their own goals. Community Health Workers (CHWs) are trusted community members who hold a close understanding of the communities they serve in frontline public health work. The peer movement has faced a long history of stigma, and of under-recognition as valuable sector of the workforce. The recognition of peers’ value has progressed, particularly when influenced by shifts in policy. Since New York State approved Peer Support for Medicaid reimbursement in 2016, Peer Support has seen substantial growth, demonstrating positive outcomes across an expanding variety of service settings. Peer support improves access to, and engagement in, services for individuals experiencing behavioral health challenges. Enthusiasm about new approaches to support and integration was strong throughout the Toolkit Kickoff event.
The event began with a welcome from Dr. Hillary Kunins, Acting Executive Deputy Commissioner for the Division of Mental Hygiene at New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. We then heard the encouraging words of Public Health Dean, Ayman El-Mohandes who highlighted the value of lived experience in decreasing significant health disparities. The kickoff attendees enjoyed hearing from keynote speaker, Joyce Wale, who is the Regional Executive Director for Behavioral Health at United Healthcare Community. Ms. Wale shared her experience and insight about the factors that have increased support of peer services by managed care organizations.
The toolkit kickoff sparked new discussions about how the toolkit can generate growth and advance organizations’ efforts to integrate peers within the behavioral health workforce. Attendees brainstormed about opportunities for collaboration, and eagerly connected to others with common goals.
Plans for an organizational toolkit have been a part of the Consortium’s discussion since its onset. The Consortium began in 2016, after ThriveNYC, a city-wide initiative to address mental health, held a Workforce Summit. At the Summit, Subject Matter Experts gathered to discuss the needs of the behavioral health workforce in New York City. The Summit’s peer workforce leaders recommended the formation of a centralized leadership body to coordinate peer workforce stakeholder groups and improve understanding of the Peer Specialist and Community Health Worker (CHW) roles. The NYC Peer and Community Health Worker Workforce Consortium was established to serve as that suggested leadership body.
In order to learn more about the workforce and about related programs and practices, the Consortium gathered comprehensive information on the state of the Peer and Community Health Worker Workforce. Using a mixed methods approach, which comprised interviews, surveys, and thematic analyses of materials, the Consortium evaluated active practices and identified the strengths and needs of Peer and CHW roles within the behavioral health workforce of New York City.
About the Needs Based Toolkit
The Needs-Based Toolkit is an online, automated guide with features that create a customized set of resources. The toolkit is designed to automatically adapt its content according to a completed self-assessment. The customized set of resources provided by the toolkit is specific to the needs of each organization, encouraging use of the toolkit as an action-oriented pathway to improved integration.
Based on the information gathered, the Consortium identified areas that impact recruitment and retention of peer specialists. For example, the roles of peers have often been poorly defined, without clear expectations, which frequently results in confusion of other employees, and assignment of either mundane office work, or, on the flipside, clinical tasks, either of which fall outside the realm of a peer’s role, and fail to draw on the strengths that peers can contribute to an organization and its service recipients.
Other areas that respondents identified as needing improvement included salaries, opportunities for advancement within the peer role, and leadership-oriented training and supervision. The practices that were identified to address these were divided into categorical domains of practice.
Nine areas of practice are included in the assessment of organizational readiness: Recruitment; Attitudes and Beliefs; Diversity and Inclusion; Finances and Sustainability; Role Clarity and Workflows; Career Advancement Opportunities Supervision; Orientation and On-Boarding; and Program Monitoring and Evaluation.
Benefits of a Customized Toolkit
In this rapidly transforming healthcare environment, the appreciation of person-centered care has advanced, bringing forth a recognition that the needs of service recipients are varied. Particularly when collaborating across disciplines, organizations, too, should receive support and training that is specific to their needs.
The Needs-Based Toolkit is an online, automated guide designed to automatically adapt its content according to a completed self-assessment. When an organizational self-assessment is completed, a customized toolkit is immediately presented to address the areas for improvement that were indicated by responses. The customized set of resources provided by the toolkit is specific to the needs of each organization, encouraging use of the toolkit as an action-oriented pathway to improved integration.
The process of employees’ collaborative engagement in the self-assessment process embodies the integrative and supportive practices that organizations may aim to strengthen. An organization’s encouragement of a self-assessment process communicates a commitment to the perspectives of its employees, which is a core ingredient in sustaining buy-in in a supportive workplace.
When using the toolkit, organizations can also download a PDF summary of their responses with their customized toolkit resources. This record provides a measure to use in identifying domains of practice for improvement, addressing those practices with the help of the selected resources, and later, re-assessing readiness and continuing to monitor progress over time.
Dissemination and Next Steps
The Consortium has extended an offer to provide toolkit-focused guidance to organizations looking to strengthen their understanding, and capacity to make full use of, the Needs-Based Toolkit. Organizations can consider the level and type of support needed and contact us to discuss a range of available options, including: Informational introduction, with an overview of the content, purpose, and structure of the Needs-Based Toolkit; Live training with hands-on, step-by-step practice using the Needs-Based Toolkit; and Advanced implementation-oriented training on the role of the Needs-Based Toolkit in translating assessment to action
The toolkit is available to all online. Information about, and direct access to, the toolkit is provided on the DOHMH website, and can be accessed here: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/doh/providers/resources/supporting-peers-and-community-health-workers-in-their-roles
The release of the Needs-Based toolkit marks an important milestone for all. The Consortium is confident that this needs-based toolkit can contribute to a strong foundation for the implementation of best practices, and help to further drive integration. We look forward to continuing our work with stakeholders as we witness the long-awaited changes that are driving more supportive, individualized, and recovery-oriented care, alongside the growing appreciation of the peer workforce.
We are available to respond to any questions or concerns about the toolkit. For more information, please email the Consortium: firstname.lastname@example.org.