July 1st, 2012

R.I. grant will grow jobs for people with behavior, abuse disorders

Rhode Island has received $103,000 from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to help improve the Ocean State’s jobs forecast for people with behavioral health disorders.

One of only nine states in the country to receive an Employment Development Initiative grant from SAMHSA, the money will help R.I. during the rest of FY 2012 to increase employment opportunities for individuals with mental health and/or substance use issues in a unique way: by developing and fusing the state’s evidence-based practice of Individual Placement and Support (IPS) with a certification program that will formally train Certified Peer Wellness specialists which will include consumers as providers.

According to Craig Stenning, director of the R.I. Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), it’s a new approach the state is taking to an old model that has served Rhode Island well.

“In Rhode Island, BHDDH has always believed that peer support creates common ground and the opportunity for inclusion,” he says. The addition of peer counseling to its ISP model “adds a new layer of support previously not available,” in that peers can enhance the efforts of rehabilitation specialists by “understanding the unique fears and challenges for individuals with behavioral health issues entering or re-entering the workforce.”

Rhode Island’s ISP model is a well-researched practice, says Stenning, which has proven effective for helping people with serious mental illness. With the right type and amount of support, he says, people with mental illness can work successfully.

According to Stenning, there are seven main components of the IPS model: everyone is eligible; it focuses on individual interests and preferences; a client’s job search begins right away; there are integrated employment services and mental health treatment; competitive employment is the goal (with or without supports); benefits information is included; and continuous assessment and support is provided.

By adding Certified Peer Specialists to the IPS process, Stenning says there will be ongoing support to Rhode Island individuals with behavioral health issues or substance use disorders.

“The Certified Peer Specialist does not replace other mental health professionals,” he says, “but is a complement to an array of mental health support services.” The specialists should also not be confused with job coaches that typically accompany people with special needs to their on-site places of work.

Program participation is open to any Rhode Islander with mental illness who attends either Harbor House in Providence, Hillsgrove House in Warwick, or anyone suffering a primary substance abuse disorder that attends the Anchor Recovery Center in Pawtucket. Participation isn’t restricted by region, but could be affected by transportation issues.

“It is the goal of [BHDDH] to continue to recognize employment as a part of recovery,” says Stenning. “Employment enables individuals to fully participate in society; employment provides a valued social role in our society and helps create a sense of personal satisfaction and social integration that contributes to life satisfaction. The collaboration between peers is a valuable practice that will enhance employment outcomes.”

Stenning says that the initiative will build on the state’s current Peer Wellness Coaches Transformation Transfer Initiative, which Rhode Island was awarded in 2010. The grant money from SAMHSA will go toward paying the salaries of one certified IPS Vocational Specialist and three part-time Certified Peer Specialists.

The top three types of jobs for which individuals have been consistently hired are janitorial, food preparation and landscaping, says Stenning. These are also the primary jobs that clients have been good at keeping.

By Jennifer E Chase

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