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'Peer Bridgers' Connect With Patients Because Of Similar Life Experiences

Courtesy of Harborview Medical Center
Teri Jo Punteney and Nancy Dow, two peer bridgers at Harborview Medical Center.

Editor’s Note: This story contains detailed conversations about mental health. It’s about 8 ½ minutes long.

Harborview Medical Center is a major treatment center for people with mental illness, including those who have been involuntarily committed to in-patient care. That population tends to have especially complex issues, and usually doesn’t want to be there.

So it takes a special kind of person to connect with those patients and understand what it’s like to be in their position …a person, perhaps, who’s been there themself.

In 2013, Harborview launched a “peer bridger” program, pairing up the patient with a peer who had once been hospitalized for mental illness.

“There’s almost an instant understanding between peers when they realize that, although I’m on staff in the hospital, I carry a diagnosis of a mental illness, I live with the effects of that, and I have been hospitalized. And that does create a link up. It is almost a magical process sometimes, that people won’t know what a peer bridger or peer specialist is, and I won’t even get a complete sentence out of my mouth before they’ll say ‘oh you get it,’” said Nancy Dow, one of the peer bridgers at Harborview.

Sound Effect producer Kevin Kniestedt went to Harborview to talk to some patients and peer bridgers.

Kevin Kniestedt is a journalist, host and producer who began his career at KNKX in 2003. Over his 17 years with the station, he worked as a full time jazz host, a news host and produced the weekly show Sound Effect. Kevin has conducted or produced hundreds of interviews, has won local and national awards for newscasts and commentary.