In September, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that paves the way to expand the use of mental health peer providers by setting up a state certification process. That’s expected to cost the state hundreds of thousands of dollars to run every year, but could also reduce costly inpatient hospitalizations.
The idea behind mental health peer support is this: People who live with a mental illness help others with psychiatric conditions.
Pre-pandemic, Keris Jän Myrick gave a tour of a building in Los Angeles that once was used for storage.
“My God, this is like the best building ever. This is the Peer Resource Center and this is LA County’s first directly operated peer-run center,” said Myrick, who is former chief of peer and allied health professions for Los Angeles County’s Department of Mental Health.
“Peer run” means people who keep this community center going have what’s called lived experience with a mental illness. People like Myrick, who said she has schizophrenia.
“It’s hard to navigate everything. So having somebody who’s been through [it], and they’re kind of like your GPS,” Myrick said.
California will now be joining other states that have a certification process for peer support services. Authors of the legislation point to research that peer support can reduce homelessness and hospitalizations for people with mental health care needs.
Long Beach has a peer respite center where guests can stay overnight and get support. Hacienda of Hope is still operating during the pandemic, although it’s limited the number of people who can stay to six at a time. At this house on a residential street, the food is free, people cook meals together and there are regular support group meetings.
“Respite would be a solution where it doesn’t take away from me financially and I would still maybe be able to see my son,” said program coordinator Joey Arcangel. “It’s not a locked setting.” People don’t need to have a diagnosis or insurance to check in.
The county, state and donations fund the respite program. It costs about $900,000 a year to run.
“I’ve had several hospitalizations, but they’ve always been voluntary. And so had I known about Hacienda of Hope, I would have never had to be hospitalized in an institutionalized setting. And so for me, this place is just peace,” said Chelle Thomas, who was getting ready to lead a peer support session.
California’s new law requires the state’s health department to establish requirements for the certification of peer support specialists by July of 2022.