In March 2020, the New York State Government started to take formal measures to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The New York State recovery community, inclusive of peers in the workforce, along with the entire treatment world would undoubtedly be impacted. Friends of Recovery – New York (FOR-NY) saw an opportunity to collect timely data in response to the COVID-19 crisis and to use that data to shape the pandemic direction of the peer workforce, in order to maintain the peer professional progress.

FOR-NY distributed an online self-report survey across New York State with the intent on capturing exactly how the peer workforce (and those identified as peer professionals) was impacted by COVID-19 and statewide government mandated restrictions. FOR-NY received a total of 342 responses with 92% of the responses being individuals reporting as being currently employed or volunteering as a peer professional:
• 74% Certified Recovery Peer Advocate and/or Certified Peer Advocate- Provisional (CRPA, CRPA-P)
• 4% Certified Addiction Recovery Coach (CARC)
• 4% Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC)
• And 11% reported as being non-certified

See complete Peer Survey Presentation here.

The data represented peers in the workforce from across the state with New York City area having the largest participation rate of 27% with the next top 3 areas being:
• Western New York- 14%
• Fingers Lakes and the Capital region- both at 13%

The demographic sample presented an almost even split between those who identified as male; 47% and those who identified as female; 48% respectively.

As discussed previously, FOR-NY carried the assumption that undoubtedly the peer workforce would be impacted by the pandemic and thereby saw an opportunity to gather the peer workforce voice with hopes of providing a “collective call to action” to mitigate any workforce issues or concerns. The data revealed that 49% of those surveyed, did not feel the pandemic (social distancing as the main element) had an impact on the overall work of the peer workforce, while interestingly enough 45%, felt their work had been impacted. The following highlights some of the things the peer workforce felt are going well in the following areas; the impact of technology training, the use of virtual technology and closing with post pandemic thoughts.

When asked, “Are things going well, are you feeling supported by your organization and/or agency” – 174 answered “yes” and do feel
• We are all supporting each other at this critical time in our field
• Yes, but I think these are unprecedented times and everyone is scrambling to figure it out so they are providing the best support they can. I think it would be helpful to have clear guidelines on privacy, best practices, expectations of ourselves and others, and models that have thrived working from home in other fields
• Yes, organization, weekly groups and peer led support group
• Supervision and good communication/supportive of peers
• We have started some online Peer Support groups which are being run on the Zoom Platform. So far, they are going well. Additionally, as noted before, management is choosing a phone system that will provide 12 hour rotating phone support, with hours allocated across staff to maintain at least 12 hour per day phone support during the crisis

Although over 50% of the peer workforce felt supported by the organization/agency, 49% reported, “feeling unsupported” and “experiencing concerns with (their) needs not being met”
• I am not being given clear directions on how to gather
demographics. Especially when my job depends on getting the
numbers in
• No not really. Our organization is placing a huge emphasis on us focusing on making productive and has restricted our ability to do any other RC work aside from a billable service (that’s a continuation from before COVID-19)
• Not at all. My direct supervisor offers zero support. Zero supervision. It’d be nice if we could have our own Peer Support group once a week
• Self-care is important/ Needing support on a personal level/could use a- check -in
• Feeling a lot of stress
• Masks/sanitizer would help/adequate equipment and safety precautions
• Should be entitled to hazard pay
• Having regular supervision would be helpful/more supervision
• Peers being told to do non-peer work/additional work
• Not enough peers to provide support, peers are not able to fulfill their roles and are being placed into different hospital departments for work with no training, lack of crisis support for peers-many peers are returning to use, not enough conference and clarity on future employment, peers being laid off, new peer orientation
In regards to clients the peer workforce supports, there were overall concerns for the clients:
• Lack of access and information as to what hospitals and institutions are open and closed as far as shelter, detox,  inpatient, residential tx, Lack of communication about resources still available during this time, the media isn’t helping to connect people to still available resources, clients are unaware of the virtual services being offered, treatment on demand, treatment beds being filled up, more outreach to provide services
• Clients slipping through the cracks, lack of contact with those who are actively using
• Lack of Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) access and support
• Lack of assistance being provided for women and single mothers
• Increase in overdoses and re-occurrences

One area of concern in particular that pertained to unmet needs (respondents were asked to describe any unmet need), was the “lack of training around technology”- in light of the in-person services being impacted, peers in the workforce, reported the following as it related to receiving training for telecommunications and their perceived effectiveness of being able to deliver telecommunications services:
• Over 50% of the workforce peers reported having received some form of technology training
• Of that 50% of those trained, 31% reported having specifically received Zoom* training
When asked if “telecommunications peer workforce services were effective”:
• 46% reported telecommunications delivered peer support services were effective
• 38% reported in-person peer support services were more effective than telecommunications

A small percentage of workforce peers reported wanting for peer telecommunication services to remain in place after the pandemic ends. Overall, telecommunications are perceived as being “better than nothing” as many peers in the workforce were pleased to still be
employed during the pandemic.

But even in light of being employed, there were concerns in regards to the uncertainty of future implications and impact of the prolonged pandemic and continued restrictive nature of work:
• People’s mental well-being is being negatively impacted, working remotely has heightened mental health symptoms, lack of co-occurring disorder services
• Virtual issues, Lack of Zoom participation. Availability and access to online meetings, Limited technology access-can’t provide the proper care to clients, virtual services not being as effective as in-person services, lack of access to technology to utilize virtual services, Zoomed-out
• Limited access to resources and services people need and little help to get them, Community resources that are available for individuals that are suffering from AUD/SUD & Co-occurring Disorder are not properly coordinated, not enough resources are being provided to keep people engaged to obtain services
• Peer workers being pushed to the max & some aren’t able to work remotely, being overworked, unable to provide coaching, peer workers aren’t being provided with enough support, burn out, uncertainty about their position as a peer now, not enough peer coaches over the age of 50, peers lacking self-care which is much needed during this time

In conclusion, when asked what can FOR-NY specifically do on behalf of the peer workforce, the following was proposed:
• Provide more trainings, provide virtual social events and
conferences, provide access to online educational tools to help us learn to better serve our community during this time, smaller and more interactive online trainings, Providing the best of the best so we know what works. Exposing us to new ideas in quick ways so we don’t have to attend long meetings, or long screen time trainings, provide peer specific online trainings, focus on financial relief information and technical support, beyond just the standard “how to use zoom.” Provide workshops or events where Peers can gather and share their experiences and update their skills and tools kits
• Provide resources on topics that are pressing, share resources, continue providing relevant information, information on working with homeless youth
• Continue outreach, continue support, provide family support
• Provide access to a mapped network of who is who and what their area of expertise and specialties are in order to refer appropriate assessments, keeping a growing network of care

It is clear that the peer workforce across New York is an integral part of the addiction journey, and the support of the workforce is needed, now more than ever. Friends of Recovery – New York has always supported the peer workforce by offering trainings, scholarship funding, and continued support through the Best Practice Trainer Learning Collaboratives. It is clear more is needed and FOR-NY will be working with New York State Office of Addiction Services and Supports to create an infrastructure that will continue to support the expansion of the peer workforce, which will undoubtedly enhance the individuals and families in treatment and recovery, beyond the pandemic.

“Recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs is real. It’s achievable, sustainable and beautiful.”

“Recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs is real. It’s achievable, sustainable and beautiful.”