No one likes to feel alone or afraid. For many of us, those situations are short-lived and fixable. But for someone living with a behavioral health issue or a substance use disorder — and often both — these feelings can be an overwhelming, everyday fact of life.
That’s why making a personal connection is one of the best ways to help someone who’s struggling. And the best way to do that is through shared experiences, says Katie Valentino, a behavioral health outreach coordinator for BlueCare Tennessee, a BlueCross subsidiary that serves around 600,000 TennCare (Medicaid) members.
Her job as a member of the recovery and resiliency team is to talk with members (normally face-to-face), find out what they need and share her expertise. Most often, it means letting them know they’re not alone.
And for Katie, this is where she’s at her best, because for her, it’s personal.
“I came into this work after a career that was entirely different; I have a specialized business degree,” she explains. “I did that for a significant portion of my young life. Then I fell into the grips of a terrible addiction and sort of took a decade off from life. When I came into recovery, everything became about giving back and doing all the things necessary to be a part of the recovery community. I wanted to find a way to marry those two parts of myself.”
A recovery journey that led to life-transforming outreach
Katie began working in the treatment field, and then three years ago an opportunity at BlueCare presented her with exactly what she wanted: a chance to help people get the care they needed and overcome the barriers to treatment that often keep them from doing so.
“When I talk with someone, they realize that not only does someone else get what they are going through, someone connected with their insurance provider gets it! They know that BlueCare sees the value in them, and that provides tangible hope,” she explains.
“I always tell people that there are a thousand different ways to get better in recovery, but one piece that has to be there is the support of other people. That’s why we are demonstrating to them that we are supportive, that we are there with them and that we want to help them make additional connections so they can form a broader network of support with others in recovery.”
An empathetic and innovative treatment model
“Katie’s caring, individualized approach mirrors that of BlueCare,” says Janice Maurizio, LCSW, vice president of behavioral health programs. “She has lived that experience and can help our members realize that someone really understands them. That, in turn, means she can build a trusting relationship and members will listen to her suggestions about peer recovery and integrating treatment into their lives.”
This kind of peer support in the community is fairly new for providers, and BlueCare has jumped at the opportunity to innovate, Janice continues.
“When members meet Katie or one of our other team members, they meet a peer,” Janice adds. “We are taking health care out to where people are, making sure their specific, individual needs are met, and that is really making a difference in how we care for our members.”
As Katie describes it, “We’re there to support people, love them and trust that if we give them the support they deserve, they’ll make better choices for themselves. There was a time when I didn’t have a lot of choices about what was happening in my life. In my work for BlueCare, I’m giving people the power to make those choices. I’m planting seeds every time I talk with them. Something will stick. Initially it’s just that spark of hope.”