Chemical not Character


There is a team specially trained and specifically dedicated to recovery awareness at Meritus. Team members are in the emergency department, medical floors, behavioral health and in the community. We recently had the fortune to sit down with a member of this team, Meritus’ peer support coach, to hear about the program, the process and the product of their efforts. We met Curtis one of our own, and employee and a member of the Meritus Health family now for more than 2 years. Curtis has been weathered by life but he is reservedly hopeful, transparent and passionate about his peers, the patients and providers. Curtis has a soft kindness about him, where you can see that he cares deeply. He is relatable, shows compassion and is genuine.

Curtis is in recovery; he began drinking alcohol at 13 years old which eventually led to a substance use disorder. Substance use disorder is a disease that chemically affects a person's brain and behaviors, leading to an inability to control the use of a legal or illegal drug or medication. Curtis will tell you that his most important role as a peer support coach is making a connection, providing a safe place for the patient. His reputation as being relentless is part of how he helps those in need of recovery. Patients come to know that Curtis will help fight for them and with them. Curtis meets his failed overdose patients where they are, at their level, eye to eye so he can say to them “I have been where you are.” Curtis strives to aid addicts in finding their way to and through recovery.

Recovery is hard and often too much for an addict to consider. Addicts stand at a fork in the road every day. One road looks bright, filled with possibility, peace, contentment, maybe even joy – with a solution and the other road looking dark and scary, full of destructive behavior that may lead to homelessness, loneliness, and death. Yet, as much as they want to take the bright road, for an addict there is almost no choice. No choice because despite their desire to spare themselves and their loved ones pain and suffering, most addicts suffer with coinciding behavioral health components. These layers (and often years) of behavioral health issues are often dense and difficult to navigate. Realizing the addiction crisis within our community and with the heartfelt desire to help patients navigate their addiction, Meritus Health implemented a peer support coaching program.

Peer support coaches assist patient care teams in providing the addict a person they can relate to who has been where they are and can share real information about the path to recovery. Curtis spoke highly about his partnerships with the Meritus Health nursing staff, doctors, and other providers to bring the best possible care to the patients, to prepare each addict the ability to make their next right choice. But Curtis spoke most passionately about the patients, the addicts – members of our community’s families- and how their connection continues past discharge. He spoke of the value to himself but most significantly, to the addict -the patient, the person - many of which contact him days, weeks and even years after the day they first met, the day of their failed overdose.

There are too many - too many overdoses and too many addicts – and we as a community have far to go on the road to recovery. Currently, Meritus Health has 5 peer support coaches. Each month, alone, up to 150 cases are referred to our peer support coaches per month. Of these referrals, approximately 10 are admitted to an inpatient addictions rehab. An addict has to be at the fork in the road and ready for a solution, ready for recovery. We need to support our neighbors, our family members, and our friends, as this often hits too close to home.