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Peer-based addiction program receives international attention

Posted Jun 13th, 2023

Chris Czyzewski, Niagara Health Addiction Peer Support Worker supports patients by connecting in a meaningful and respectful way. 

An innovative Niagara Health program that helps people with addictions is receiving international recognition through Accreditation Canada and the Health Standards Organization.

Following a rigorous evaluation process, Niagara Health’s Rapid Access Addiction Medicine (RAAM) Peer Support program has been named a Leading Practice. The certification is based on innovative and people-focused practices that demonstrate a positive change related to safe, reliable, accessible and integrated care.

RAAM Peer Support is positioned in the Emergency Department (ED) to provide rapid comfort and support to those looking for help with alcohol, opiates and other substances.

“Our strength and effectiveness comes from our one-on-one visits with patients and our experience in navigating the addiction and mental health supports, services and shelters in the area,” says Chris Czyzewski, Niagara Health Addiction Peer Support Worker.

Launched in 2016, the RAAM clinical team offers counselling, anti-craving medications, and connects patients to counselling and rehab programs in the community or at Niagara Health. Key to the clinic’s success is treating a client’s substance use and any associated mental health problems at the same time.

The RAAM Peer Support program has resulted in a significant decrease in the number of clients returning to the Emergency Department or being admitted to Niagara Health’s Mental Health inpatient unit.

Peers support patients by connecting in a meaningful and respectful way.

“We have a unique opportunity to meet people with empathy, and this can be a very empowering experience,” Czyzewski says. “I make sure to come from a place of mutual support and equality. I let them know that I am not a medical professional nor a social worker. In this role, I am just a person that has some similar life experiences and is in recovery today.”

Ontario’s Roadmap to Wellness: A Plan to Build Ontario’s Mental Health and Addictions System (2020) acknowledges that peer support is a core service for people with needs ranging from low to complex. RAAM programs provide service to entire communities for people who have long been conditioned to self-stigmatizing and shame-based responses to addiction.

“Our main goal is to reduce the stigma around people who use substances and to make sure people have access to necessary medical treatment,” says Brenda Yeandle, Clinical Manager of Addictions Services.

“Our peers also work to connect people to the right place at the right time. That means if someone comes to the emergency department because they are hungry or tired, our peers are there to get them a sandwich, a drink, and to a shelter. Peers connect people to services in the community that will help them the most.”

As Niagara Health’s first paid peer program, Yeandle says the data reflects the many successes of the peer program since it started last fall.

“Peers within the RAAM clinic are caring and compassionate advocates that people can relate to,” she says.

Providing high-quality, safe care is the No. 1 priority of Niagara Health. As a Leading Practice, the RAAM Peer Support program has set world-class standards to provide the highest achievable quality for patients.  Healthcare institutions across the world can look to Niagara Health for practices to make improvements in quality, safety and their own care experience.

“Many patients have shared how they really enjoyed having someone to talk to,” Czyzewski says. “It is a rewarding job.”

Learn more about recovery services in Niagara

Niagara Health System