An Interview with Meghan Hetfield, CRPA CARC
Back in May of this year Recovery Talk introduced Peer Engagement Specialists and reported that agencies are being creative in the ways in which they use them. This month we interviewed Meghan Hetfield, a Peer Engagement Specialist currently working in the emergency departments at three different hospitals.
CALLED TO SERVE IN A NON-CLINICAL SETTING
A few years back, three years into her own recovery, Meghan was happily managing a bed and breakfast in Woodstock, NY, when friends started dying and she realized how widespread the opioid epidemic had become. It was then that a friend, interning at NYS OASAS, told her about the newly emerging workforce of “Recovery Coaches.”
Meghan says she was skeptical at first as she had no interest in working in a clinical setting. She had heard that CASACs spend a lot of time doing paperwork, don’t always have the time to spend with their patients and typically are not able to self-disclose if they are in recovery. When she heard that as a recovery coach she could use her own personal experience to connect with people she says she felt she could be effective.
LIVED EXPERIENCE TO INITIATE RECOVERY
Wanting to work on the recovery side rather than in treatment, Meghan was excited to be part of a profession where she could use her lived experience to help initiate someone into recovery and fill the gaps that can exist before and after treatment. As a peer professional she is able to talk about how being arrested and mandated into long term treatment initiated her own recovery on 9-10-11. She speaks openly about her “gratitude to the judge who saw me as a sick person who needed help instead of locking me up.”
Meghan says that her legal situation did not hold her back and she was able to start her life over. She went back to school, earned her associate’s degree and has begun to work on her bachelor’s degree. She took the Recovery Coach Academy training at the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Council of Orange County in 2014 and her ethics training shortly after that.
PEER ENGAGEMENT SPECIALIST IN THE ED
Originally, The Council on Addiction, Prevention and Education of Dutchess County (C.A.P.E.) received a grant to pilot a Recovery Coach program that would provide outreach in the community. Meghan was hired by executive director, Elaine Trumpetto to meet recoverees “where they are at” and work with them on their recovery plans. She had been doing that work for a little under two years when C.A.P.E. received Peer Engagement Specialist (PES) funding.
Peer Engagement Specialists are now co-located between 3 hospitals in Dutchess County — Vassar Brothers Medical Center, Northern Dutchess Hospital, and Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital. In this role, Meghan’s primary responsibility is to respond to individuals who have overdosed. She says she has a unique opportunity to meet with them, self-disclose and act as a resource broker if they are willing to accept help.
If the patient is willing to accept help, she will use motivational interviewing to find out what they want to do, where they are willing to go, and work with a case manager to get them there. Dutchess County has a Stabilization Center at the Department of Behavioral and Community Health and people are often referred there. If the the individual is not ready to accept a referral to treatment, Meghan may refer them to a mutual aid group or engage with them using a harm reduction model, offer Narcan training, a Narcan kit and advise that never use alone.
A TYPICAL DAY
Meghan starts her day with the mobile crisis team who fill her in on who may be appropriate for her intervention. She says that on a good day she will get background information such as their age, frequency of admissions, and what drugs are “on board.” She tells us she’s seen no less than four patients in a day and sometimes up to fifteen. She can meet with anyone who is there for a drug or alcohol related issue, not only overdose patients.
Often, after checking with medical staff, Meghan will bring a patient a blanket, some food or ginger ale to make them more comfortable. She makes sure they know that she works for an outside agency and that she doesn’t care what insurance they have or don’t have. She says once their basic needs are addressed and she lets them know that she has been where they are, they are more receptive. “That’s the cincher,” says Hetfield. “You can see them relax and their manner of speaking changes. They start to speak to you more like a friend and not a nurse or a doctor.”
As many of our people have had bad experiences in medical settings and they don’t know she’s coming to see them, it is really important for her to put the patient at ease from the beginning. She spends between 15 – 30 minutes with each patient (depending on how engaged they are) and often checks back with them later to make sure they have gotten other things they’ve requested, such as a nicotine patch or other medications that they might be taking.
A WARM HANDOFF
Whether a referral is made or not, Meghan will provide the names of her colleagues, give the patient her card and let them know that she just wants them to get better and that she is there if they need her….no strings attached. Meghan tells us that people’s situations are always changing, maybe they will obtain insurance or change insurance carriers or they will get arrested and now there is a PO to help. She says “You never know what’s going to bring people in” and it’s important to simply make a connection.
Although the environment itself can be challenging; with medical emergencies and death, insurance barriers, detox admission criteria restrictions, lack of services and the sheer volume of people who need services, Meghan loves her job. She says she has the ability to give someone hope when they think there is none and to let them know that recovery works. “It’s not boring. It’s my life….and it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve tried.”
When asked what words of wisdom she would offer anyone seeking to enter this profession, Meghan said “The best thing you bring to the situation is your ability to open minds, not only the patient’s, meeting them where they are, but also the staff’s. They know the horrors of addiction, but you can carry a message of hope and open their hearts to recovery. Erasing the stigma is the only path forward. Anything we can do as a Peer Engagement Specialist is invaluable to the recovery movement and getting people well.”
We thank Meghan for all of the wonderful things she is doing for herself and others, including her assistance with our recent Recovery Conference.
To connect with Meghan:
Email: [email protected]
Phone: 845-554-2527 cell
For Recovery Coach Academy trainings in your area, visit our website.