About Us

The Workforce Development Program (WDP), previously called the Recovery Support Specialist Institute (RSSI), was developed as a training for peers (people with mental illness and/or substance use disorders) and funded by Medicaid and state funds, as peer support services began to expand within the behavioral health care system.

Participants must self-identify as a peer, for which the categories include Serious Mental Illness, General Mental Illness (anxiety and depression), and Substance Use Disorder. Participant experience and educational background ranges widely.

Since the program began in 2005, WDP has graduated 1,164 Certified Recovery Support Specialists. Since 2013, the output has increased: Workforce Development Program has put on 42 RSSI Institutes and graduated 656 Certified Recovery Support Specialists. During that period the graduation rate for the 720 students who were successfully referred and accepted to the program was 91.1%. The program, though longer and more intensive than others in the region, is considered the gold standard in the Arizona behavioral health community.

Programming Excellence. WDP has a long-standing and nationally recognized dedication to the wellness needs of those with serious mental illness and the integration of health and behavioral health. The Workforce Development Program was designed in alignment with managed care delivery.  The program prepares peers to be Behavioral Health Specialists, a role that is not mental health or substance use disorder specific.  The Workforce Development Program is a Certified Stand-Alone Certification program able to adapt and modify its own curriculum as the need arises, without having to go to a state or national certification board to make changes.  Based on evolving student needs, the curriculum can be adjusted after each training, and important modifications, such as the 2014 addition of the Integrated Health Institute, are possible.

Integrated Healthcare Institute (IHI). An intensive three-day training component provides peers with a very thorough, academic immersion in integrated care.  The IHI is a part of the certification course, but can complement training for peers who are already certified, making direct to consumer marketing especially worthwhile. The curriculum addresses preventable healthcare conditions and teaches about co-morbidity.

Capacity for Consultation and Training for Medical Clinics Integrating Peers. WDP has been invited by Banner Health to partner on an innovative demonstration project integrating Recovery Support Specialists into a Primary Care Clinic. As part of this project, WDP hosts a monthly Collaborative Advisory Committee meeting, designed to ensure that the project proceeds with equity and serious consideration of the Recovery Support Specialist perspective. The training curriculum will prepare Peers to work in integrated physical health care settings. This experience will position WDP to consult with other organizations moving toward providing behavioral health care as part of their integrated health practice models. 

Family Support Specialist Curriculum WDP has just received approval to roll out the new Family Support Specialist Curriculum. This will allow family members of those who have a serious mental illness and/or substance use disorder to provide Medicaid-billable family support services.

Statewide Reach. The WDP RSS Institute is delivered throughout Southern Arizona, including in Tucson, Yuma and La Paz Counties (GSA 2), Graham, Greenlee, Santa Cruz, and Cochise counties (GSA 3); and Pinal (GSA 4). Opportunity exists to expand into Maricopa county in the coming fiscal year.

Peer Trainers. All trainers in the Institute are peers themselves. We emphasize the message of hope and recovery as part of a peer-delivered approach, including an emphasis on building instructor capacity over the long term while partnering peer specialists/trainers with highly experienced professionals to effectively engage students in programming that can be adapted in response to population needs.

Evaluation and Academic Dissemination. As part of the Department of Family and Community Medicine, the WDP has established partnerships with the College of Medicine's evaluation team, in order to monitor and maintain data deliverables in the service of outcomes evaluation and academic research. Outcomes and findings are regularly shared at conferences and as part of forthcoming publications in peer-reviewed journals. Data quality is continuously monitored and updated.

Peer Support Workforce Advocacy. Several WDP staff are founding members of the Arizona Alliance of Peer Supports (AzAPS), the organization that advocates for the professionalization of the Peer Support workforce in Arizona, and is influential primarily through its connection with Arizona Health Care Cost Containment Service (AHCCCS). It provides employment resources to certified peers, and solicits and advocates for the interests of peers support workers in the state.