Gulf Bend Center trains peer specialists to advance mental health care

Gulf Bend Center will soon have a paid peer specialist on staff.

Volunteer Dennis Simms recently became a state-certified peer specialist.

Gulf Bend Center can bill Medicaid for his services. The revenue stream created will allow the center to hire Simms to further develop its peer specialist program, said Lane Johnson, director of clinical programs and services for Gulf Bend Center.

The training was paid for with a $24,000 grant from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health at The University of Texas at Austin.

Gulf Bend was one of six health centers added to the East Texas Coalition for Mental Health Recovery to receive the funding last year.

The center expects another $20,000 grant from the foundation in October, which it plans to use for the same initiative.

Peer specialists have personal experience with mental illness and support others with similar struggles, said Johnson. The specialists train around the state on how to engage and support their peers.

"Those who have experienced the trauma of mental illness and who have recovered can be a significant component of a successful treatment team," said Donald Polzin, executive director of Gulf Bend Center.

Gulf Bend Center works with the East Texas Coalition for Mental Health Recovery to carry out its mission to build leadership in mental health, recovery and wellness and to increase consumer and family involvement, Polzin said.

The coalition, which launched in 2010, is a pilot program focused strategically on East Texas as an underserved region where the need for a network of consumer leaders in the mental health system is especially great, according to a Hogg Foundation news release.