Support for Older Adult Peers

The Baltic Street, Advocacy, Employment, and Housing, Inc, Geriatric Peer Advocacy Program may be the only peer to peer program in New York City that offers services to seniors that have psychiatric disabilities. The program has been in existence since 1998 and although it is a small program, over the course of its lifetime, its mission has been and continues to be to provide support to seniors, based on their needs for a successful life in their communities. We have been able to provide support and services for the older peers at locations like, adult homes, nursing homes, psychosocial clubhouses, etc. Our purpose is to help them sustain a well-balanced standard of living.

The Geriatric Peer Advocacy Program began under the guidance of the New York City Department of Mental Health and was approved as a result of a Request for Proposal (RFP) that Baltic Street, AEH, Inc., had submitted to the City of New York DOHMH to provide advocacy and support services to seniors, with an Axis 1 mental health diagnosis. We assist consumers who are at least sixty years of age or older. They may need help with housing (Senior Apartments, in particular), referral services to outpatient clinics, doctors’ offices, benefits and entitlements, financial matters, and any other supports or resources that are applicable to the adult services and programs. In addition, the program also helps advocate for legal advice and services. All of our services are delivered in an atmosphere that is friendly and trusting. This attitude of support is crucial to seniors and demonstrates that we sympathize with their situations and that they are not alone and not forgotten. As peer advocates we maintain contact and often give a supportive call just to inquire if there are any immediate needs or to just say “How are you doing?” As. Peers, we provide a number of other services through collaboration with other programs and resources and we continually help coordinate essential services for older adults. We also do escorts or go- along-services with persons to appointments when necessary. Some of our clients may only need help with specific questions or just reminders of when they have an appointment.

In some of the Brooklyn adult homes, we facilitate groups where we meet a number of new consumers who may be dealing with mental health issues for the first time or the onset of mild dementia or who may have aged out of the mental health system. There is a need of a special relationship for older adults that are not the same for those younger in age and in spirit. Some of the needs remain the same, like housing, financial support, and even alcohol and substance abuse, but these often are new and unique problems that arise. We always treat our clients in a respectful and caring manner. We understand that our elders need to be recognized as valuable members of our society, although they may not seem to be as attentive to what we feel is important in our society today. They could probably tell us all, a few things or two, about how to better our lives and we never minimize or underestimate their wisdom.

In the groups we facilitate, we discuss self-esteem issues, overall wellness, and recovery tools. We speak about health issues; from stress management, diabetes, better diets, exercising, and anything that is related to good health, in particular. Some seniors ask about information on traveling, employment, and personal needs, all of which we try to assist them with individually. We use a self-help approach, where seniors are shown that they can still do many things on their own with just a little coaching and encouragement. At this time in their lives, many find just our presence to be helpful. They are happy, sometimes, just to know that someone cares and is concerned.

A Case Study: George (not his real name) a senior came to Baltic Street, AEH, Inc. Geriatric Program some time ago, seeking support with financial issues and was given referrals and a listening ear to help him through the process. He came back to us on several occasions with various needs, including housing assistance. Then we submitted the required paperwork for the housing application. He attended the housing interviews and was quickly accepted, without having to go onto a waiting list. Today he enjoys freedom in sharing an apartment which he has personal responsibilities for, that is in a safe and warm environment.

This is just one of many success stories that are borne out of the work of Geriatric Peer Program.

Jeffrey Perry, CPRP (MSM) is the Bridger Program Manager, and Vera Popko is Program Manager for Geriatric Peers at Baltic Street, A.E.H., Inc.

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