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Recovery Leadership Academy Graduates Bringing Hope to Healthcare

July 05, 2022

There is an African proverb that says “The individual who wears the shoe knows where the shoe hurts the foot.” This is the premise behind the Recovery Leadership Academy at Hartford HealthCare. As part of the Behavioral Health Network, the academy trains those with lived experience to become recovery support specialists. The plan is simple: To bring hope to those who may have lost theirs, to be the example and to show that recovering from mental health or substance misuse disorders is possible. So far this year, 122 students have completed the Recovery Support Training Course, graduating as certified recovery support specialists. “Congratulations to all of the graduates… you should be incredibly proud with what you have done,” said Jim O’Dea, MBA, PhD, senior vice president of Hartford HealthCare’s Behavioral Health Network. The course is the brainchild of Dr. Karen Kangas, the director of Recovery & Family Services for HHC. Her life’s work has created a place for those in recovery to share their stories and use them to help others. She has helped create a new workforce in the healthcare field, one that Dr. O’Dea feels is worth accessing. “What we really need to work toward, what I think people with lived experience will contribute toward, is a genuine approach to a wellness and prevention strategy,” said Dr. O’Dea. “It’s not just engaging with them when they are going through a bad patch, but it’s engaging with people early on, when we identify early symptoms that things are looking a little like they are getting off track. And people with lived experience are the perfect people. I think this is one of the most exciting times in behavioral health, because we are going to be foundational to a genuine healthcare system, not a system that focuses on illness.” For the graduates, the opportunity to complete a course and earn a certification that is recognized throughout the state is life changing. “I used to be so unhappy and depressed. Everyone saw my addictions, people would look at my past and nobody would hire me,” said Rebecca Fyler, a recent graduate. “For the first time in my life, I wake up happy and with a purpose. I have my dream job. I just want my children to be proud of me. Proud that their mom is helping people.” Peers helping peers. The idea that you can take your worst day, take a painful part of your life, and use it as an asset. That’s what this course means to so many or the graduates. “I hope to share my experiences to help others going through similar things. I think as a class, as a society, and as a whole… a lot of people are looking for change and for hope right now. We have the ability to give that. We can share our experience to give hope,” said Kenneth Dillon, a retired police officer and recent graduate. “I would recommend this class to people who don’t believe they are in recovery, I would recommend it to police officers, I would recommend it to anyone in life because it not only makes you think, but it gives you confidence to see the hope you might not have seen before.” Dillon put his money where his mouth is, and recommended this course to his daughter, Sydney. Just like her father, Sydney just became certified as a recovery support specialist. A family working to end the cycle of trauma and mental health disorders, by starting a new cycle of hope.