Mental Health: Peer Bridgers Reduce Hospitalizations, Boost Recovery

People standing in lineThere’s more news out of Seattle this week regarding innovations in mental health. A program called peer bridging matches a person who’s just been released from in-patient treatment with a person who can act as their advocate and help them navigate the requirements and resources of agencies in the community. The bridger helps with the sometimes-arduous tasks of obtaining a mental health case worker, filling out necessary documentation, finding housing, and other supports that are often available, but difficult to access due to a variety of barriers.

This recent piece in The Seattle Times, The Rare Mental-Health Fixers, explains that in Pierce County, just south of Seattle’s King County, peer bridging has been in use since 2009. The estimated first-year cost savings from reduced hospitalizations in Pierce, which has a population just over 800,000, was more than a half a million dollars.

King County is trying the program out by way of a two-year grant, money obtained through a Washington state settlement with Janssen Pharmaceuticals for deceptive marketing practices. (This is the second time I’ve heard about money obtained from a pharmaceutical company settlement getting earmarked to help the wider pool of victims of bad pharmaceutical practices. Nifty.) The county plans to keep it going afterward by using the money saved on inpatient treatment.

I love this idea. Twenty years ago I filled a similar role to the peer bridger as a volunteer for the Immigrant Services Society of B.C. There, I helped refugees figure out how to set up their new lives in Canada. They knew they could call me whenever they had questions or needed help, and in return, I was fed a lot of fantastic Iraqi and Ethiopian food. It was a total win-win. The program was designed to support people when they’re in a vulnerable transition phase of their lives so they know they’ve got a friend in the community who will be there for them.

Just imagine how helpful the peer bridging program must be for people who have just gone through a mental health crisis and are trying to reintegrate in their community. And just imagine how hard it must be for those people if they’re largely on their own. Close your eyes if that helps.

Image courtesy MicrosoftThe Times piece says, “At least 11 percent of psychiatric patients are rehospitalized within 30 days, according to national data, mostly due to sparse follow-up care.” I would bet money that the percentage increases dramatically at the 90- or 120-day mark. Programs like peer bridging demonstrate that we have solutions to address problems such as rehospitalization, and with the current shortage of psychiatric beds in King County and beyond, it kind of seems like a match made in heaven.

Have you come across any similar kinds of programs in your neck of the woods? 

 

Comments

    • Laura Zera says

      Hmmm, yeah, I’m sure they encounter a fair number of unreceptive people. That’s why they want peers who have been through it themselves, to make the person who’s in transition feel more comfortable. I would think the sooner you start to work with someone when they’ve been released from the hospital, the better, e.g., the more receptive they’ll be because they’re hopefully feeling pretty good.

  1. says

    What a fabulous initiative Laura – thanks for sharing this. Would love to hear further as the program progresses. Intuitively it sounds certain to work, but always great to find out how much of a success and what the learnings are.
    Best wishes
    Jacquie

    • Laura Zera says

      You’re right, and I will do my best to do a follow-up post on this initiative down the road. Thanks, Jacquie!

  2. says

    This sounds like a great idea. I’ve heard of similar programs for people who’ve been incarcerated and needing help with the transition back into society. If I remember right, the recidivism rate went down with this type of support. So, why wouldn’t it also help reduce re-hospitalization if well designed? I don’t mean to compare the mentally ill with criminals. I’m sure there are different needs and issues. I just mean that a structured form of support is so important for people trying to re-integrate into society. That this is peer-support also feels really important.
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    • Laura Zera says

      It was really fun, Jodi. I had such a good time getting to know the people, and they were so very gracious toward me, always having me over, etc. And you sound like me, I start to get panicky that time is running out and I won’t have time to do everything, but realistically, I figure we’ve both got about 40 more years!

  3. says

    Hi Laura,

    Thank you for posting this. I know of no such programs in my area, but I will certainly check into it and see what is being done to help ease the transition from in-hospital back into the community.

    Best,
    Matthew

    • Laura Zera says

      Thank you for reading, Matthew. If you have a chance to follow up on what’s in your area and let us know, that would be really cool. I find it very useful to gather that kind of information. And as I mentioned to Jacquie, I will revisit this in a year and report on results.

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