University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center was awarded a $375,000 three-year grant to continue and expand its Peer Recovery Coach Program, which provides help to patients struggling with substance use disorders.

This is part of a larger $7.9 million grant investment from CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield (CareFirst), the largest not-for-profit health plan in the Mid-Atlantic region, to improve substance abuse and behavioral health outcomes for youth across its service areas in the region.  

Keith Strickland has been a Peer Recovery Coach at University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center in La Plata for the last three years, helping those with substance use disorders gain sobriety. Strickland got on the path to sobriety 11 years ago and now spends all his time helping others do the same. Credit: UM Charles Regional Medical Center

“Substance use disorders are among the many behavioral health issues that we care for in our Emergency Department,” said Noel Cervino, President and CEO of UM Charles Regional. “The CareFirst grant allows us to continue and expand the valuable Peer Recovery Coach Program that helps patients struggling with substance use disorders find help and resources in our community with the support of a recovery coach.” 

The UM Charles Regional Peer Recovery Coach Program places trained recovery coaches – who are themselves recovered from substance use disorders – with people who need help getting on a path to sobriety from alcohol or drug use. The CareFirst grant allows the hospital to cover costs for salary training and of peer recovery coaches who take shifts in the Emergency Department to help patients that need their support and assistance. Currently, three coaches cover 16 hours a day, five days a week. The new grant funds will allow the broader coverage by adding an evening shift mental health social worker to their team.

“The addition of an evening shift social worker will strengthen our Peer Recovery Coach Program by bringing increased support to patients struggling with substance use disorders who find their way into our Emergency Department,” said Matthew Schatz, Ph.D, the hospital’s Behavioral Health Coordinator. “The help we give here may be the first step toward a better and healthier life of sobriety for many such patients. It’s certainly our goal.”  

UM Charles Regional peer recovery coach Keith Strickland got on the road to recovery 11 years ago, leading him to a new career of helping others live a life of sobriety. The Virginian helps prisoners stay sober through a prison ministry program, and he joined the UM Charles Regional program three years ago.

“I think every hospital needs this,” Strickland said of the hospital’s Peer Recovery Coach Program. “My job is to give the person with substance use disorder some hope. They’ve been fighting and battling [addiction] totally alone. If I can give them hope, then they can begin their recovery.”

To identify needs and challenges impacting behavioral health in the region, CareFirst conducted key interviews with community-based organizations. This process informed its priority areas for the funding, which include: 

  • Addressing disparities for at-risk youth of color and LGBTQ youth, or supporting programs that address the root causes leading to higher prevalence of mental health and substance use disorders and reduce barriers to services.  
  • Expanding the behavioral health workforce, or increasing the availability of trained behavioral health providers through recruitment, retention and incentives to expand access to qualified mental health professionals in areas with limited access.

Special considerations were given to organizations serving Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), disconnected youth, persons experiencing homelessness, populations with limited English proficiency (LEP), structurally disinvested communities, justice-involved individuals, LGBTQ populations, low-income communities, rural communities and other marginalized communities.  

“CareFirst recognizes that behavioral health is an essential part of overall health, which includes a continuum of conditions ranging from severe mental health disorders to the emotional, psychological, and social factors that affect a person’s overall wellbeing,” said Destiny-Simone Ramjohn, Ph.D., Vice President of Community Health and Social Impact for CareFirst. “We are proud to invest in 19 dynamic organizations who will minimize behavioral health disparities among young people and dramatically increase the number of trained health professionals that provide culturally responsive and trauma-informed behavioral health care.”

To learn more about UM Charles Regional Medical Center visit UMCharlesRegional.org.


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