City Program Connects New Yorkers To Full Time Positions As Peer Advocates

October 25, 2017

NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) Commissioner Gregg Bishop (above) and NYC Health + Hospitals today announced that graduates of a City program will be hired to help individuals seeking or sustaining recovery from a substance use disorder. The SBS Certified Recovery Peer Advocate (CRPA) Training Program has led to full-time employment offers for 14 recent graduates of the program. The program, a product of SBS’ New York Alliance for Careers in Healthcare (NYACH), provides professional training to unemployed or underemployed New Yorkers with a personal history of, or experience with, substance use recovery. Graduates become certified to support, guide, and motivate others who are seeking or sustaining recovery from a substance use disorder. The 14 graduates will work in the emergency departments at NYC Health + Hospitals facilities and Community Care of Brooklyn.

Each year, over 13,000 individuals arrive at NYC Health + Hospitals emergency departments with a substance use diagnosis, accounting for nearly 40,000 annual visits and necessitating a larger pool of qualified advocates to serve this growing need. CRPAs are increasingly valued as the City addresses the growing opioid crisis. Peer support services are found to reduce hospitalizations, hasten recovery times, and result in improved patient experiences.

“Not only are New Yorkers with personal histories of or experience with substance use gaining meaningful employment, but area hospitals are also gaining valuable staff to effectively support substance use treatment,” said Gregg Bishop, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Small Business Services. “Our Certified Recovery Peer Advocate Training Program goes a long way to support the local economy as well as the city’s need for quality behavioral health services.”

“These certified recovery peer advocates will do important work, connecting with patients on a ‘lived experience’ level,” said Luke Bergmann, PhD, assistant vice president, Office of Behavioral Health, NYC Health + Hospitals. “With the new skills that they’ve acquired as part of the SBS training program, we know they will help us connect meaningfully with more patients and help save more lives.”

Given the initial success of this program, NYC Health + Hospitals has committed to working with SBS’ NYACH to continue hiring CRPAs to work in high-need areas and scale the model citywide. The latest program graduates will be employed by NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem, NYC Health + Hospitals/Metropolitan, and NYC Health + Hospitals/Woodhull.

CRPA Training Program Success

Barbara Bell was born and raised in Jamaica, Queens and reflects on a positive, family-oriented childhood where she regularly attended church, belonged to a Brownie troop, and attended dance school. Her substance use began after she became pregnant in high school and left before graduating. She began with smoking marijuana, progressed to cocaine use, and finally, the use of crack cocaine. She found herself living on the street and in shelters with her daughter, who was eventually taken care of by her mother. Barbara spent four years in prison and was in and out of treatment three times.

In 2001, in her fourth recovery program, Barbara achieved her goal of sobriety, which she has since maintained. She became a certified substance use counselor, but found it difficult to reach clients due to limitations on counselors sharing personal experiences with clients. In 2010, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and by 2013 she left her job to focus on her health. During this break from employment, Barbara reflected on her work as a counselor and began exploring other roles in the recovery space, which is when she learned about SBS’ CRPA Training Program. She was drawn to the peer role and the way it would allow her to use her lived experience to inform her work and build relationships with clients.

The CRPA Training Program allowed Barbara to connect with others with shared experience and work towards the same goals. She credits the program with helping her become a better person. After four years out of the workforce, Barbara is now a certified CRPA and has accepted an offer from NYC Health + Hospitals for a full-time CRPA position in an emergency department. Barbara sees the CRPA role as an opportunity to follow her passion in a meaningful role that allows her to connect with others by sharing her experience.

“I am excited about this position and new journey as a CRPA, not as a counselor, but helping someone as a peer,” said Barbara Bell. “I know what it is to feel rejected and not loved, and wanting to give up.”

The Certified Recovery Peer Advocate Training Program

The CRPA training program, developed at Queensborough Community College, provides a three-month, eighty-hour curriculum that covers need-to-know topics, such as peer advocacy, ethical responsibilities, mentoring, and wellness, to fully prepare participants to become certified and begin work as CRPAs. Peer advocates can help peers develop recovery plans and -monitor their progress, model effective coping skills, attend court and other system meetings as a support, and support peers in advocating for effective services.

New Yorkers interested in learning more about the CRPA Training Program should contact Madeleine O’Neill at mo’ or visit for more information.

This initiative has been developed in collaboration with City University of New York, NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and New York State Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services.

For more information, visit 

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For more information on all SBS services, go to or call 311.

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