Sen. Beall Proposes State Certification of Peer Providers

January 17, 2018

SACRAMENTO – A proposal allowing qualified peer providers – people who have lived experience as clients, family members, or caretakers of individuals recovering from mental illness or addiction – to be certified by the state to deliver services to patients with such disorders was introduced today by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose.

“Because of their life experience, peer providers who have personally dealt with mental disorders possess a level of expertise that professional training cannot replicate,’’ Beall said. “This legislation allows the Department of Health Care Services to establish a new category of trained and qualified providers who can connect people in need to services.

“Peer providers can be especially effective because they personally understand the fears that people grappling with alcoholism or mental illness are going through. They’ve been there.’’

Research studies show peer support can reduce hospitalizations, improve client functioning and client satisfaction, and alleviate depression and other symptoms. One study found the effect of peer providers to be transformative, helping mental health clients “move beyond the patient role into one of empowerment.’’

Senate Bill 906 requires the Department of Health Care Services to establish a certification program that includes guidelines, a code of ethics, defining the range of a peer provider’s responsibilities, the required training, continuing education, clinical supervision, and a process to revoke certification.

Secondly, the bill authorizes the department to amend the state’s Medicaid program by adding the peer support providers as a reimbursable category. It also directs the department to seek any federal waivers to offset costs. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid have established guidelines for certification for states to set up programs and have offered a 50 percent match in federal funding.

Approximately 40 states have instituted peer provider support programs and services.

Jessica Cruz, NAMI California Executive Director, said peer providers can augment available treatment to increase healthy outcomes.

“Peer certification is essential to the behavioral health care continuum,’’ Cruz said.  “Peer providers can enhance the level of treatment provided by medical professionals, and in most cases the rate of reduced hospitalization is reduced ten-fold.

“Because families and individuals are experts out of their own experience, they are able to leverage their knowledge and expertise to help others through their journey.  NAMI California stands in strong support of California becoming the 41st state  accepting peers as certified professionals. We need to catch up with the rest of the country.’’

Beall’s proposal arrives at a time when the state anticipates that there will be substantial demand for peer support specialists, although there are no statewide standards, training or supervision processes in place.

SB 906 has drawn bipartisan support. Senator Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, is a joint author. Senators Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys and Dr. Richard Pan D-Sacramento, are co-authors.

"We look forward to working on this important issue with these legislative champions,’’ said Maggie Merritt, Executive Director of the Steinberg Institute, which is sponsoring the bill.  “Peer certification has been shown to be hugely beneficial in mental health care. It’s time peers are certified and are recognized for the role they play in the course of someone’s healing."