Virginia CIT Peer of the Year 2020


Congratulations to Joe Stafford, who has been chosen as the 2020 Virginia Crisis Intervention Team Peer of the Year!

We are so lucky to have Joe as one of our amazing peers. He works with the Rappahannock Crisis Intervention Team to help individuals experiencing mental health emergencies.

His nomination for the award does a great job of explaining the importance of a peer on the CIT--and in describing the many ways Joe helps our community:

As we all know, individuals experiencing a mental health crisis are typically going through one of the absolute worst days of their lives. Being brought into the emergency room in the custody of law enforcement can be confusing, angering, and/or frightening.

From there, individuals under ECOs are asked a barrage of questions by medical staff and mental health professionals and even if those professionals do their very best, at the end of the day they are the ones who make the decision on what happens next for the individual.

However, if a program is fortunate enough to have a peer recovery specialist working on site, there can be at least one person through the process whose entire focus can be on what the client wants because a certified peer recovery specialist (CPRS) does not have decision making power and can, instead, build a shared alliance with the individual that can be a powerful avenue to instill hope where there may be none.

If a program is even more fortunate, their peer recovery specialist is as passionate and dedicated as Joe Stafford is in his role as the Rappahannock Area CIT CPRS in our Crisis Assessment Center. Joe approaches each client with empathy and compassion.

Time and time again he has gone above and beyond to make the ECO/TDO process less confusing, frightening, and frustrating for individuals going through it. He advocates for his peers and their rights whenever he has the opportunity and, within the last year, did so by speaking up for individuals who did not want to provide blood and urine as part of the medical clearance process when those individuals appeared to have capacity to make such a decision. This advocacy changed some of the dialogue occurring between the individuals under the ECO and medical and mental health professionals alike. It reinforced the dignity and worth of the individual and restored some degree of self-determination through a process that often feels like such rights are stripped away. In balance to making sure that individuals knew about their right to refuse (in cases where capacity to do so was present), Joe made certain that the individual knew the possible outcomes of such a decision (i.e. increased likelihood of a state hospital admission), which allowed the individual to make a more informed choice without it feeling as though the process was forcing them to do things they did not want to do. In turn, most individuals would make the choice to go along with the process which made it less adversarial overall.

In addition to being with individuals in the emergency room and working to make the ECO/TDO process as understandable and smooth as possible, Joe expanded his role as a Peer Specialist outside of that setting. To provide ongoing support, he regularly visits both of our local psychiatric facilities and connects with individuals in that setting, working to instill hope and connect them to resources in the community for after discharge. He was instrumental in one of our local hospitals (Snowden) developing a peer volunteer process and getting more peers in to work with individuals in the hospital setting.

After the COVID-19 pandemic began, Joe was no longer able to work within the emergency room setting as he had been because the risk was too high to himself and clients. The first question he asked his supervisor was how he could continue working to support his peers, because doing so is always his top priority. He seamlessly transitioned to supporting our Program for Assertive Community Treatment (PACT) team by connecting with individuals enrolled in those services and supporting those individuals in hopes of helping them through these uncertain times. As always, his focus is on the goals and aspirations of the peers he works with and he is making a huge impact by connecting with these peers on a near daily basis and helping them achieve their goals (e.g. one peer thrived years ago as a WRAP facilitator, Joe has been helping this peer get a stable internet connection so the peer can participate in ZOOM groups and work toward becoming a WRAP facilitator again).

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