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PRS: Providing a powerful recovery connection

In Ohio, a Peer Recovery Support Specialist is a certified individual who has walked the path of recovery from a substance use or mental health disorder and gets the privilege to be employed and assist others in their Recovery journey. The main goal of a PRS is to empower individuals to achieve their hopes, dreams, and goals, as well as to provide guidance to motivate individuals to achieve sobriety or better mental health.

My name is Jovonnah Burns, and I have been working as a PRS employed through Life & Purpose Behavioral Health and embedded at Marietta Memorial Hospital since October of 2019. I am proud to be sober for 11 years and was excited to be a part of the PRS training in the fall of 2019. Although I am originally from Kentucky, I have lived in the Mid-Ohio Valley since I left treatment 11 years ago. I started working as a Service Coordinator for Life & Purpose in 2018, and it was Janice McFarland, the Director of Clinical Services there, who mentioned the PRS career to me. We both thought that this role would be a good way for me to utilize my skills and talents while giving back to the community that has supported my healing and my recovery. Janice often says to me during our clinical supervision “that the PRS plays an integral part in supporting a client’s mind-body recovery and resiliency, and that Life & Purpose Behavioral Health believes in using this creative and entrepreneurial approach to support people in recovery.”

As of March 2020, I have coordinated with various substance use disorder (SUD) inpatient treatment facilities to provide services for 27 individuals who were patients of Marietta Memorial Hospital. I have also linked 28 individuals to local outpatient agencies, such as Life & Purpose Behavioral Health, Oriana House, Westbrook Health Services and Hopewell. My supervisor in the hospital is Linda Sistrunk, the Director of Behavioral Health. She has been very supportive in getting this new program started and shares: “PRS is essential to the coordination of care for recovery services but more importantly it continually promotes a philosophy of compassionate care for those suffering with Substance Use disorder.”

Although my time with patients is short, I believe that it is valuable for me to share my experience, strength, and hope, with the intention of showing that it IS possible to be free from the captivity of addiction. In a short amount of time, I establish rapport, share my journey and encourage patients to choose the path of recovery that will work best for them. Even if the patients aren’t ready for the next step, I still meet with them in the hospital to continue to provide sober support. Sometimes all they need is to know that someone cares enough to show kindness. The patients often struggle because of judgments and stereotypes expressed about their disease or disorder. Most of the time the issue is finding the right resources and being able to find the right people to support them. Many bridges in their lives have already been burned so it’s often important to develop new relationships and community supports.

As a community we are coming together to help individuals. I am very fortunate to work in an environment that promotes compassion and kindness towards those who are suffering. On the really challenging days, my kids are a big motivator for me. I am also reminded that I watched my best friend overdose, and I don’t want anyone to experience this. My mission is to make sure that every person suffering with substance use disorder knows where to look for resources, how to access them, and receives all of the help they may need to be successful in their Recovery journey.

I am grateful for the funding from the Washington County Behavioral Health Board, and I am also thankful for Life & Purpose Behavioral Health and Marietta Memorial Hospital for providing me with this opportunity.

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Jovonnah Burns is a Peer Recovery Support Specialist at Life & Purpose Behavioral Health, located at Marietta Memorial Hospital.

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