Western Nebraska Observer - Observations all along the line - Kimball & the Southern Panhandle First

Friends and Neighbors: Liz Williams


Tonia Copeland

Liz Williams will be in the Kimball office every Tuesday as a Peer Specialist.

Though she is a new face in town, Liz Williams, Peer Specialist with Panhandle Health Group, is busy meeting new people in her quest to help consumers in Kimball and the surrounding areas. Williams, who prefers the term Peer Navigator, uses her own life experiences to assist others.

While this is a newer concept here in the Nebraska Panhandle, peer specialists have long been used for military veterans and those in support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous. Though some clients are referrals from other providers, Williams also garners clients from support groups, churches and other community organizations.

"What peer support means to me," Williams said, "is being a support to them through their life struggles. With my life experiences I can encourage others."

This support can include connecting consumers with available resources in addition to offer support.

Though they do receive training, working in western Nebraska is challenging as all training is done in the more heavily populated eastern counties, according to Phil Darley, Assistant Executive Director of Panhandle Health Group, who said specialists here often train with consultations online or through webinars and conference calls.

"Peer specialists came about seven or eight years ago, into western Nebraska, primarily in the Scottsbluff community, in partnership with Region One Behavioral Health Authority," Darley said. "In May 2016, Region One decided to infuse Peer Specialists within the independent providers."

At that time Panhandle Health Group took on two such specialists in Scottsbluff and just six months later added another Peer Specialist to the southern Panhandle, specifically in Kimball and Cheyenne Counties. As that specialist, Williams, began her duties at the beginning of February in Kimball and Cheyenne Counties.

The program started out strong in the Scottsbluff area, according to Darley, with workshops created for people to gather with common bonds in structured settings. One such group, Consumers Always Learning More (CALM), is in its third cycle in the area.

CALM workshops are an eight-week series that runs three times each year. The series is designed to teach consumers how to implement the eight dimensions of wellness in daily life.

Those eight core wellness areas include Spiritual, Environmental, physical, occupational, financial, intellectual, emotional and social.

A second eight-week series, WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan) addresses a variety of physical, mental health and life issues, according to Panhandle Health Group material.

Williams hopes to build the same workshop in the Kimball and Sidney areas while focusing on supporting others in areas such as mental health, medication management and substance abuse.

"With her (Williams') growing knowledge, she does become a point person," Darley said. "We encourage our peer specialists to really connect with consumers."

Williams, and her counterparts in the northern Panhandle, provide another option for clients who may not need more formal services, as they are not trained therapists.

Rather they are trained to connect others with resources to handle the more complex struggles such as anxiety and depression.

"They are someone who has been through an experience who can be empathetic and a guiding force," Darley said.

Funds for Williams' service are unique, according to Darley, as Region One Behavioral Health Authority funds the service and directs the funds to be used in one of three programs: mental health, substance use and medication management.

"Sustaining that funding is based on positive outcomes such as client recovery and reengagement in the community," Darley added.


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