Expanding Peer Recovery Specialists in Clinics

Working to replicate a successful, peer-driven SUD program in other clinics.

Almost half a million adults in Virginia have a substance use disorder, according to statewide data. For more than a decade, fatal drug overdoses fueled by opioids like fentanyl have been the leading cause of unnatural deaths in the Commonwealth.  

The Virginia Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (VAFCC) was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation to expand peer-based, substance use disorder recovery programs to six free and charitable clinics over the next three years. The grant is focused on replicating a proven peer-focused recovery model pioneered at the Bradley Free Clinic in Roanoke called The HOPE Initiative.  

Launched in 2018, the program incorporates Certified Peer Recovery Specialists, advocates with lived experience in long-term recovery from substance use disorder who connect patients to a trusted network of treatment and recovery services, while helping people access holistic healthcare services. One important aspect of the HOPE's program success is that it operates withing a free clinic which earns the trust of thousands of Virginians every year as they provide comprehensive, quality, and compassionate care to patients.   

Unlike traditional recovery programs that operate from substance use disorder facilities or treatment centers, the Peer Recovery Specialists work with patients from within the structure of the Bradley Free Clinic, a community-based healthcare nonprofit. The peer specialists leverage their lived experience to build trust and provide non-clinical, trauma-informed, and strengths-based support for patients during their recovery. HOPE Peer Recovery Specialists work collaboratively with the Bradley Free Clinic's medical, dental, pharmacy and behavioral health treatment teams to reduce barriers to care and serve as patient advocates and supports. Over the years, HOPE has supported over 2,000 people and more than 80% of its patients have completed treatment or recovery. Data from the HOPE program shows improved access to care and treatment outcomes, as well as increased patient engagement and reduced relapse rates. Integrating trusted Peer Recovery Specialists into every aspect of a clinic helps patients feel more comfortable, which results in better patient outcomes and improved quality of life.  

In addition to connecting people to care, the VAFCC expects the program expansion to help reduce emergency room utilization for patients experiencing substance use disorder in Virginia. The Health Wagon, a charitable clinic located in Wise and serving Southwest Virginia, has been selected to initiate the effort in the first year and the remaining five clinics will be chosen in year two and three. 


A Lifesaving Investment

Working towards a Virginia where all people have access to comprehensive, quality healthcare by supporting and advocating for our member clinics so that hardworking individuals and families are protected from healthcare crises.