Through the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Recovery Support Peer Specialist Fellowship Program, researchers at the UTHealth Center for Health Promotion and Prevention Research are working alongside community partners to expand the recovery support peer specialist (RSPS) workforce in Texas. The program addresses a shortage of peer substance use disorder workers in the state.
Many areas of Texas are critically underserved by the current behavioral health workforce. Texas’s vast rural areas, areas along the Texas-Mexico border, and low-income urban areas all have a high need and high demand for behavioral health support. And across the state, there is a growing need for RSPSs able to assist individuals with substance use disorder (SUD) using medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and individuals living in recovery residences.
RSPSs must be certified by the state of Texas, a process that involves hours of classroom training, a supervised internship, and application fees. The RSPS Fellowship Program works to recruit new RSPS trainees and support them by facilitating training, covering tuition, fees, and supplies, and offering a stipend along with other resources. The program also partners with 15 training entities, experiential sites, and peer supervisor providers to establish training spots across the state’s highest-need regions and secure internship placement and employment for trainees who have completed their classroom training.
The Fellowship Program builds on the Opioid Workforce Expansion Program (OWEP) Recovery Support Peer Specialists Project, which concluded in May 2022. For OWEP, CHPPR investigators worked with the nonprofit organization RecoveryPeople, which lead recruitment efforts and worked directly with the community organizations. While the Fellowship Program continues to collaborate with RecoveryPeople, the project team at CHPPR has taken on those duties themselves.
Although these workforce expansion efforts began alongside the COVID-19 pandemic, most training providers were able to transition to remote learning for the classroom training. The project has also adapted to provide opportunities for work experience hours to be completed remotely as well, allowing certification efforts to continue. The project has so far successfully supported 342 RSPS trainees.
The BHWET Recovery Support Peer Specialist Fellowship Program is funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Johnny M. Wilkerson, PhD and Sheryl McCurdy, PhD are the project’s Co-Directors.