Thrive Peer Support provides personal touch to addiction, mental health treatment

Eight years ago, businessman Brian Bailys, who had been in recovery for substance abuse, had a major relapse and ended up hospitalized.

“I crashed and burned,” is how he describes it.

While in treatment, he met a person who had been through the same things he had experienced and who offered a ray of hope for recovery.

“It was a peer who gave me back my smile, it was a peer who gave me back my confidence,” Bailys, a Chagrin Falls resident, said.

He was the fortunate one. Of the seven people he was in treatment with, six relapsed again within 90 days, and he knows of at least two who are dead.

“There has to be a better way,” he realized.

From his own experience, and through research, Bailys realized that peer support was the missing piece in the recovery puzzle.

In 2018 he founded Thrive Peer Recovery Services, which has had tremendous growth and success in reaching out to people grappling with addiction.

They started with six employees who had contact with 272 clients in the first year.

Now they have 150 employees who worked with almost 4,000 clients last year, offering services in 66 Ohio counties.

And they are poised to provide even more aid in the areas of mental health, and will be launching a statewide call center this month.

The difference at Thrive is that they utilize “individuals in recovery helping people in recovery,” Bailys explained. “They’ve been through hell and back and they know what it’s like.”

That allows the peer supporter to build trust with a client “almost instantly,” Bailys said.

Those peer supporters work throughout the community, including 24 hospitals and emergency rooms, as well as courts, jails and other places where a person might be ready to consider recovery from abuse.

Rondye Brown is one of those peer supporters. He grew up in a family marred by addiction and fell into a lifestyle that led him to prison, institutions and a suicide attempt.

As he hit bottom “I was tired of being tired,” Brown offers in a promotional video. “Thrive saved my life.”

And now he and others are giving back.

In the video, Nicole Knight said that “I was the walking dead” before beginning her own recovery.

She has been drug-free for five and half years and has been with Thrive for almost four years, contacting clients everywhere from the county jail to the local McDonald’s.

Thrive helps anyone, anywhere, Knight said.

Reaching out

The need is great.

The Centers for Disease Control ranks Ohio fifth among states in its rate of addiction, and in 2021 the state set a record with 4,083 overdose deaths.

Almost 20 percent of Ohioans report excessive drinking, and 2.3 million suffer from mental illness.

Bridgette Lewis, co-founder of Thrive with Bailys, said she chose the name because she wanted their clients to reach for a better life.

What makes a good peer counselor?

“Passion for the mission,” Bailys said. “Someone who is empathetic, hard-working. It is hard work.”

Being “understanding, compassionate and open-minded” also is important, Knight said.

Peer counselors must be clean and sober for one year. They undergo 40 hours of state-certified training along with continuing education.

Margaret Schramm, an intake specialist, said Thrive individualizes the client’s treatment plan, rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

“We believe in all paths to recovery,” Bailys added.

Even if a client relapses, they know they can call and get help, Schramm said.

The message is getting through. About three-quarters of the clients contacted sign up for some form of treatment, Bailys said.

Thrive has seen many people rebuild their lives. Five of their own peer counselors were once clients. Bailys’s son, Brandon, who had his own struggle with mental health issues, is Thrive’s clinical director.

Thrive offers a talk line for mental health issues in Cuyahoga, Clark, Green and Madison counties. It also provides support for survivors of human trafficking and assistance to those leaving incarceration.

This year Thrive was awarded an $800,000, two-year state contract to operate a call line that will address mental health issues for children and young adults 20 and under, and their families.

In addition to the human side, promoting recovery can save big bucks. One Texas study found that peer counseling saved $3.4 million in health care costs, a 72 percent reduction over 12 months.

Bailys said he wants to take his company national and become the gold standard for providing peer support.

Thrive has built its success on one major element, Bailys said.

“At the end of the day it’s the people,” he said. “We have an incredible team.”

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