A new program for city mental health services that uses former patients as peer counselors could have a major impact on areas where the system seemed all but broken. NY1's Health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report.
Diane Hatton-Gresham has drifted in and out of mental health services for years. She says she is finally on the road to recovery, with the help of a peer counseling program in Flatbush, Brooklyn that is run by the Health and Hospitals Corporation, the city's public hospital system.
"Everyone who is involved in it, they are kind, they are encouraging, they are inspiring. They take time to listen," she says.
HHC's peer counseling program has been recently revamped and expanded to put a fresh focus on patient-centered care. Once patients themselves, peer counselors work as mentors to those currently in treatment.
The program is playing an especially crucial role at Kings County Hospital's Behavioral Health Center, where two years ago a patient named Esmin Green died in a psychiatric waiting room after allegedly being ignored by staff for an entire day. Hospital surveillance video captured her
The peer counseling program is systemwide throughout the city's public hospitals, but doctors and counselors in Kings County say the fate of Esmin Green is a hugely motivating factor behind what they are trying to accomplish.
On the walls of the office of Dr. Joseph Merlino, the director of psychiatry and deputy executive director at Kings County, there is a photo of Esmin Green right above his desk, along with a snapshot of the surveillance footage capturing Green's neglect right beside it.
"The reason that I have a picture of Esmin Green over my desk is to remind me every day, and anybody who comes into my office to meet with me, that we have a commitment to all the Esmin Greens of the world, that what happened to her never happens again," says Merlino.
The peer counseling model has the praise of the New York branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
"What the peer counselor adds is that they are living proof that treatment works," says NAMI NYC Metro program director Mary Lee Gupta.
"I tell my patients that I work with, that 'I'm just a bed away from being in the bed next to you,'" says peer counselor Beverly Carthens-Reed. "I still suffer with ailments that I have, but at least I know that if ever, God forbid, I become ill again, that I have a better chance now."