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PEER SUPPORT SERVICES FOR OLDER ADULTS. Background Information. Peer Services in PA February 2007 OMHSAS received approval from CMS to include peer support services as a component of rehabilitative services under the state’s Medicaid State Plan

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Background Information

  • Peer Services in PA

    • February 2007 OMHSAS received approval from CMS to include peer support services as a component of rehabilitative services under the state’s Medicaid State Plan

    • As of October 2007, 493 peer specialists have successfully completed the required training curriculum and are certified to provide peer services under Medicaid

Background Information

  • As a required service within PA’s Behavioral Health Managed Care System, HealthChoices, a choice of two Peer Support Service providers must be available within easy access to individuals anywhere in the state who are in need of this service.

Context for Initiative

  • Persons aged 65 and older represent the fastest growing age group in the United States

  • Pennsylvania has the third highest percentage of older adults in the nation

  • Several studies indicate that 10% to 30% of the elderly population has a mental health disorder

Context for Initiative

  • The elderly are less likely to seek treatment from mental health professionals due to stigma.

  • Older adults with behavioral health disorders who do not receive treatment are at increased risk of hospitalization, reduced physical functioning and mortality.

Peer Program Development

  • One method to engage older adults and avoid the stigma of participating in mental health programs has been the development of peer support programs

  • These have been effective for three reasons:

    • Stigma is reduced because of the use of peers as counselors

Peer Program Development

  • Older adults believe that similarly aged paraprofessionals understand their challenges because they share a common generational experience, and

  • The intervention is usually offered in the community rather than within a healthcare or traditional mental health setting.

Peer Support Training

  • Prepares individuals who self identify as having used mental health services to provide support to others.

  • Has received national attention as a critical intervention through both the Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health (1999) and the President’s New Freedom Commission (2003)

Peer Support Training

  • At this time, seven states have been approved to provide peer services under Medicaid

  • Other states are poised to offer the service as Medicaid reimbursable in the near future.

Overview of Project

  • The Older Adult Peer Specialist Initiative has six goals:

    • Develop an “Older Adult Peer Support Competent” one day curriculum

    • Develop an “Older Adult Peer Support Enhanced” three day curriculum

    • Recruit 20 Peer Specialists (50+) to work with older adults

Overview of Project

  • Pilot the 3 day Older Adult Peer Support Enhanced curriculum in Harrisburg, PA with 20 older adult peer specialists

  • Pilot 4 regional 1 day Older Adult Peer Support Competent trainings (20 per class) and

  • Create specialized work opportunities for Peer Specialists who completed the enhanced older adult curriculum


  • Currently being developed

  • Will qualify as continuing education for certified peer specialists

    • One day curriculum will provide 4-7 hours

    • Three day curriculum will provide 21 hours


  • Older adults (50+) are being recruited to provide peer services to older adults

  • 20% of current CPS are 50+

  • OMHSAS will work closely with Counties, and managed care organizations to obtain commitments to hiring Older Adult Peer Specialists within their local service systems.

Pilot Training Program

  • One day training will be provided in four locations of the state, including Pittsburgh

  • Three day training will be piloted in Harrisburg for 20 peer specialists who have expressed an interest in providing peer support to older adults.

Workforce Opportunities

  • OMHSAS has issued an announcement of the project to counties, managed care organizations and providers asking them to develop specialized Peer Support Services for older adults.

  • Referrals of peers for training from these agencies/counties will be prioritized

  • Websites created by PA trainers will be used to match peers with job positions


  • Increase access to services for older adults

  • Decrease isolation for older adults with depression

  • Create a support network for older adults

  • Increase the availability of older adult peer specialists and services

  • Create innovative delivery of services in non-traditional settings and by non-traditional providers


  • Increase linkages between the mental health and aging systems

  • Increase the competencies of Peer Specialists statewide

  • Provide mental health prevention services through the training and social marketing inherent in the training sessions.

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