California passed a piece of legislation in 2020 that  went into effect and will have an incredible impact on our mental health system in the coming years. California Senate Bill 803, known as the Peer Support Specialist Certification Program Act, recognizes the value of peer specialists within California’s mental health system by legitimizing peer workers as a medical-billable service.

Below, we will go into the details of the bill and discuss what it means for the mental health system in California.

What is SB-803?

SB 803, introduced in January 2020 by state Sen. Jim Beall and signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Sept. 25, expands California’s behavioral health workforce by allowing for certification of peer support specialists.

The bill clearly states the value of peer workers in every aspect of the mental health system and acknowledges that prior to this bill, no statewide scope of practice for implementing a peer workforce existed.

This bill allows California to join 48 other states in implementing standardized curricula and certification protocols for peer support services.

The bill states that the following will be completed by July 2022:

  1. Establish statewide requirements for developing peer specialist certification programs.
  2. Define the qualifications and standards for peer support specialists.
  3. Determine curriculum and core competencies required for a peer support specialist certification, including continuing education requirements and recertification requirements, and determine a process for complaints and corrective action.
  4. Establish a code of ethics.
  5. Seek any federal approvals deemed necessary for implementation.

Below is the legislative intent as written in the bill, which can be viewed here in its entirety:

  1. Support the ongoing provision of services for individuals experiencing mental health care needs, substance use disorder needs, or both, by certified peer support specialists.
  2. Support coaching, linkage, and skill-building of individuals with mental health needs, substance use disorder needs, or both, and to families or significant support persons.
  3. Increase family support by building on the strengths of families and helping them achieve a better understanding of mental illness in order to help individuals achieve desired outcomes.
  4. Support collaboration with others providing care or support to the individual or family.
  5. Assist parents, families, and individuals in developing coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills in order to help individuals achieve desired outcomes.
  6. Promote skill building for individuals in the areas of socialization, recovery, self-sufficiency, self-advocacy, development of natural supports, and maintenance of skills learned in other support services.
  7. Encourage employment under the peer support specialist certification to reflect the culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, mental health service experiences, and substance use disorder experiences of the individuals the peer support specialists serve.

Why is SB 803 important?

The signing of SB 803 is significant because it recognizes that people with lived experience can play an integral role in the delivery of mental health and substance use disorder treatment.

As the legislation states, research has shown that peer supports improve client functioning, increases client satisfaction, reduces family burden, alleviates depression and other symptoms, reduces homelessness, hospitalizations, and hospital stays, increases client activation, and enhances client self-advocacy.

Certifying peer specialists can also increase the diversity and overall effectiveness of the mental health workforce.

“With the signing of SB 803, California can engage Peer Support Specialists as a critical part of the behavioral health workforce. As we continue to face the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, California will now be ready to utilize the unique role that peers and families play in our state’s behavioral health recovery.” – Jessica Cruz, CEO of NAMI California

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