Peer Recovery Center of Excellence – Organizational Stakeholders of the Month

Peer Recovery Center of Excellence - Organizational Stakeholders of the Month, Vol. 14

Special Thank you to Shannon Roberts at the Peer Recovery Center of Excellence for having Dr. Mo’s appear on the latest podcast episode, Organizational Stakeholders of the Month, Vol. 14! 

In this episode, they delve into the fascinating world of peer support specialists and a little information on Straight Up Care.

If you’re curious about what is going on in the world of peer support specialist or how we at Straight Up Care are here to help, you’re in for a treat. 

Join as they uncover the unique perspectives and invaluable experiences of these unsung heroes.

 So grab a cup of coffee, sit back, and tune in to gain valuable insights from our fantastic hosts at Peer Recovery COE and check out their other episodes as well.

Get ready to be inspired by the incredible work of peer support specialists in the Peer Recovery Center of Excellence. 

Let’s dive right in!

Read the rough transcript

Hello listeners and welcome back to Recovery Talk, a podcast from the Peer Recovery Center
of Excellence.
I’m your host, Shannon Roberts.
Each month we will be talking with an expert in the field discussing substance use challenges,
resources to assist individuals with a substance use challenge and or their families, and best
practices for the delivery of peer recovery support services.
This month we’re bringing you a shorter episode, but I had a conversation with one of our organizational
I had the privilege of talking with Dr. Mo of Straight Up Care.
Get ready to hear some incredible work being done by some incredible people.
And without further ado, let’s get talking.
All right listeners, I’m here with Dr. Mo Straight Up Care.
Dr. Mo, thanks for being here today.
Hey, thanks for having me.
I’m happy to be here.
Do you want to spend a few minutes just kind of introducing yourself to folks?
Yeah, absolutely.
So my name is Dr. Mo.
I am a professor at the University of South Dakota, and I teach in the Addiction, Counseling,
Prevention Department.
So that’s what I do during the day, ish.
And then I am also the CEO of Straight Up Care.
And Straight Up Care is a telehealth platform that connects peer supports or people who
are in recovery with other people who are trying to navigate their journey to recovery
in this telehealth way, right?
So being able to connect people online in the time that they need it, being able to have
the administrative, compliant, and tools that they need to be effective in the tasks that
they’re trying to complete.
Very cool.
Thank you.
How did talk to me about the beginning of Straight Up Care?
How did it come to be?
Yeah, so it started out with some research.
So I’m a researcher.
And so I was wondering, like, what are the hiccups?
Like, why are people not getting the treatment that they need, why are we relapsing?
What does relapse look like?
How can we better help people just make this path just a little bit smoother?
And so I found a lot of reasons, right?
A lot of gaps, a lot of things that we could do different that we’re not doing.
And it was a little overwhelming, but then I started looking out, you know, what is working
that isn’t being amplified?
And I thought that might be an easier task for me than trying to change the world.
And it turned out it is a little easier.
And so I realized a little bit more about what peer support looked like.
And I knew because of my own recovery journey, what peer support looked like for me.
But I didn’t realize how I could amplify it with my voice.
And so I started understanding a little bit more about what peer specialists did, how they
could be implemented, and then I became a peer specialist.
And then I started working.
And then I understood a little bit more about what I could do to help.
And since I got my PhD, I decided that, you know, I wanted to, again, lift people’s voices
up and be able to amplify what I’m hearing, what I know, what I’ve seen and where people
And so I decided that we would create some sort of platform to be able to help people,
but I didn’t quite know what it was going to look like.
And when I tell you that the universe dropped, Jonathan Lewis, my business partner, I know
my lab, like just he like sprinkled into my life.
We live across the country.
And I just got so lucky to be able to have him as my business partner.
He’s an app developer and marketer.
He has all the skills that I don’t have.
And so together we realized what we could do.
And so we created a telehealth platform and here we are today.
So we applied for an NIH grant, a challenge grant and won that.
And so that really helped us get moving and what it looked like to, can we actually bring
this to fruition, you know, doing some customer discovery?
Do people need this?
Do they want that?
How can we show them that, you know, their lived experience is so valuable and that’s
kind of what brought us to today?
Very cool.
So how did, so talk to me more about how the universe dropped Jonathan in your lap.
So I have met him through another person that we both knew together and it was like we
hit it off immediately.
Jonathan was willing to share his recovery story with me.
And it just, I don’t know, like, I don’t know if it was the vulnerability that brought
us both together or just our passion to be able to help other people that were in recovery.
But we just hit it off.
It’s just been like a best friend since the day we met.
And we’re just on the same page for all things.
You know, we want to create wealth, but in a way that we can share it with other people.
And that seems like the best people to have in the recovery field is others who are minded
like that.
My big scare was like, what happens if it gets big and somebody else gets a hold of it and
then they don’t have the background that we have.
And they accidentally harm people who are in our recovery and they’re not, you know, vulnerable
to what the language looks like.
And it just, it scares me to think about what that could be.
But Jonathan and I have decided that, you know, we both want to, we are both on the same
page and we both want to be advocates in this huge way that we hope we’re creating.
Very cool.
Thank you.
I, one of the themes that I keep hearing bubble up in my conversations with our organizational
stakeholders and the organizations they work for or represent or a lot of them start themselves.
A lot of it is they recognized a need in their community that they didn’t have and just decided
to create it.
And I’m wondering what’s that and maybe you don’t have the answer, but what’s that?
What’s that thing and people?
Because not everyone’s going to go out and start something, right?
Like what, if you could name it or if you could speak to it, what’s that thing that you were
like, you know what?
This doesn’t exist, but I believe I can create it.
So I think it really was understanding that my support that I had when I got into recovery.
So I’ve played roller derby for a decade.
And at the beginning of my roller derby career, yeah, it was super fun.
Mo Payne, that’s my roller derby.
At the beginning of my roller derby career, I started to kind of go off the rails a little
bit with my alcohol intake.
And so my friends and colleagues and teammates got to watch me kind of tumble, right?
But they were also the ones who were there to pick me up.
So I got really big into the roller derby community and I traveled all over the world
teaching roller derby.
And so I didn’t just have a community of my roller derby team.
I had this whole roller derby community and it looks and feels just like the recovery
So now that I’m retired from roller derby, I’m so grateful that I have this recovery
community that looks, smells and tastes just like roller derby.
Like we’re all just a little like awesome.
And we’re a little different and we all understand that we’re a little awesome and a little
And so we could be together in this space.
But I realized that if I wouldn’t have had that before I found that support, that community,
I had nothing.
I had no, I was so isolated and I think that’s how I got into my return to use was because
I didn’t have anything.
I was so isolated from community and I was isolated from other humans and I just had
to have people lift me up.
And I feel so immensely grateful that I had that, that I’m like, I can’t imagine that
other people have to go through it alone.
Like if I wouldn’t have had that huge support team and I use social media as a support for
me too, you know, I still trust like, Hey, I’m in so many, it’s been 13 years now, you
know, and I just, that’s, that kind of like fuels me and keeps me in a space where I can
be moving in the direction that I feel is correct.
And so I wanted to, when I realized I could create something like that, I could replicate
some of those pieces for other people.
I was like, this is a no brainer because I know how much it helped me.
And I know that it could help other people.
Is it for everyone to have this huge support team of a roller derby team?
No, but to have someone one on one that can be there for you and be able to help you.
And then to use my skills that I’ve, you know, created through becoming a professor and being
able to create the training that’s now made like accredited, you know, and be able to
do all these things that are already skills that I have to lift other people up.
It just, it just became an over and I H really like solidified it for me, right?
When they were like, yes, this is a credible idea.
And yes, we support you.
And yes, here’s a little bit of money.
And here’s how we want you to move forward.
And here’s what you can do next.
I was like, yep, it’s I’m in.
I was hooked.
Very cool.
I love that.
Can you talk a little bit about the nuts and bolts of like starting an organization?
It turns out being an entrepreneur is difficult.
I am a serial entrepreneur since like seventh grade selling suckers and band.
And I just like, it’s never easy, but you know when it’s right.
Like I’ve watched the universe is kind of align all the things to put them in place,
not that it hasn’t been hard, but it was like, you know, winning that challenge grant,
going to Yale, going to Madison, like all these different things that I’ve done because I just
put this idea out there into the world and then just watching them come into fruition,
meeting Jonathan Lewis, like being able to just have all these things come into place
lets me know that I’m moving in the right direction.
And honestly, I feel like when we get off track and we’re like, oh, we should go over here
and do this and this.
And then it’s like something tells us, wait, just stay in line with what you’re doing.
You know, master the direction you’re in and then you can veer off a little bit and see what else is needed.
But yeah, it’s been, it’s a lot of work.
It’s a lot of like the organizational part of it.
Like the business part of it is not nearly as much fun as connecting with peers yesterday.
I was at a tribal conference and I got to meet three peers who are super passionate and super awesome.
And that is the kind of stuff I really enjoy, but like balancing the checkbook.
Not as quite as much fun, but all part of the process.
So it’s just learning all these new skills, meeting people who are in the substance use disorder
and a bench, excuse me, innovation space and like what people are doing really gives me fire.
Like, you know, knowing what you guys are doing and how you’re supporting people and the education
that you’ve put into place and to help us all move forward.
It just, that’s what helps keep those like days where you have to balance the checkbook like from
being such a drag.
Cool. Yeah. What does, so what does straight up care? What does that, like, what does your infrastructure
look on the back end? What do you mean, what part?
So like, do you have, so it’s an online platform. So can anybody access it? Like,
by, yeah, talk a little bit about that. Like, if I’m out in the world and I want to access
my services. Yeah.
Yes. Absolutely. I see what you’re asking now. So yeah, let’s talk about it from the peer
perspective first. So let’s talk about what a peer specialist has.
So if you are a peer specialist, you can connect with the training. So in South Dakota, Nebraska,
we have grant programs right now for people to get trained for free, which we think is super
awesome. We think building the workforce is super important. But we also have some programs in
place for if you’re just looking to onboard, you’re already a peer specialist and you want to onboard.
We have some cool programs right now set in place for you to onboard for super cheap, actually.
Yeah. And then if you are wanting to become a peer panuer, as we’ve coined,
we have other spaces for you to get, you know, understand what it’s like to be an entrepreneur.
Because if you’re on our platform, you’re not hired by us. You’re 1099. You’re a sole
panuer. You are your own business, which is what we want. We want to build up a population of people
who have this lived experience and are built for this space in order to allow them to
reach other people and reach their highest potential. We also talk about what’s to look
like to move beyond being a peer specialist. So if you’re extremely goal oriented, like I am,
and you’re like, what’s the next step for me? It could look at what does it look like to be a
peer supervisor. Maybe you want to get into the world of CHW. Maybe you want to get into the world
of speaking, public speaking. Maybe you want to write a book. And we just kind of show you how
you can use your lived experience to make sure that you know that that glass ceiling is broken.
The sky’s the limit. You can do whatever you want with your lived experience. And what does that
look like for people moving forward? So that’s kind of like our peer-preneur pro package
and what that can look like for peer specialists getting into the space. But if you are looking
for services on the platform, we have a matching algorithm. So there’s peers on the platform
that you’ll be able to match with. So we kind of looked at this as kind of a research standpoint
as well. So what does it look like for people who are matched with other people? I mean,
think about the last time or the first time you went to a counselor and maybe it was not quite a
good match for you. The first few times, you’re like, this really wasn’t the best match. You’ve got
to date your therapist. That’s what I’ve heard. So exactly, sometimes you’re going to fire them
and that’s okay. They get it. They know. They may not want you either. And they can fire you too.
Right? So that could go both ways. But we thought if we could use a dating app matching algorithm
and match using AI matching on certain components, maybe that we could help break down on some of
those things. And so that’s what Jonathan’s created. Jonathan created that. So if you logged in and
you were looking for a peer specialist and you put in 41-year-old female in recovery from methamphetamine
and alcohol use in the Midwest because you want to hear me say, oh, every now and then, like that’s
that’s what you would give me. Yeah, I would come up, right? Like if you are a veteran, a combat
veteran, you know, you could be able to click that box and you could have other combat veterans,
you know, just trying to take. It already makes us special that we are in recovery. But what else
makes us who we are and how can we use that to meet and reach other people? So then you can log on
like that. You know, you can find your matched peer specialist. You can use video, you can use
chat, you can use text. There’s a space for notes. There’s a scheduling, it sends out reminders,
and then payment on the other side. So all those things kind of working together for the peer
specialist and for the person coming to get services as well. Very cool. So when you and Jonathan first
started imagining this or because it sounds like there’s kind of two umbrellas within straight up
care, right? Like me as a professional is a peer wanting to engage with support or then me wanting
peer support services engaging. Did you did they were both of those like umbrellas part of the
initial process or brainstorming or did one like kind of grow out of the other? I think we always
knew we wanted it like that where we could but we didn’t really know like who do we more work,
you know, like what space do we want to make? Do we want to make it more towards the person who
wants to services or do we want to make a space for the peer specialist? And I think we realized
that because we’re passionate in both areas that we had to find a way to kind of mix that but we
really wanted to create something for the peer specialist to be able to be wildly successful and
that’s really our goal is to create a space for them to work where they make a living wage and even
more, right? And that they get to pick their own hours, they get to pick their own pay, they get to
do all these things that I don’t know sometimes people in recovery don’t feel like they’ve been
made to have those kind of that greatness, right? I know and I’m teaching a cohort of peers right
now that are from drug court and I feel like I’m often telling them like you are deserving of this
space and the the amount that you want to pick to work the wages that you want you like you
you’re deserving of this right because you are an expert in this field and so I think we got
really passionate about what does it look like to build up the peers and we know if we can give
them a space where they can work and we can support them and we can keep them immersed in the education
the the latest and greatest you know best practices we can really help a lot of other people on the
other side too so we decided to build up what it looked like for the peers and then make a safe
space for the people who are getting into recovery or extending their recovery or whatever that
might look like for them. Super cool. So how long have you got how long has straight up care been
out there and available? Just recently, just recently we just rolled everything out. So yeah
we’ve been stuck we started in 2021 we won the NIH grant so we’ve been trying to perfect things
and make sure that everything ran correctly and and HIPAA was our main concern we wanted to make
sure that we had everything put together so that we could be on the cusp of what it looks like to
keep people safe so. Super appreciate that. Yeah we’re still the new kids on the block.
Yeah I was asking about timeline because I was thinking back to your your researcher background
and kind of how this grew out of that motivation and was just wondering if thus far there’s been
anything that you’ve I don’t know if your researcher or spidey senses have been like oh that might be
a good thing to explore that’s an interesting pattern I’ve noticed. Yeah so I’m really pumped
to get some data from participants and peers to understand like what comes next how is the
metric how are them working for them so better understanding like you know what does your wellness
look like now versus after some peer support sessions how can we make things better what do you need
VR would VR be a space for us to dip into because that was the huge thing that Jonathan and I both
thought would be a great space or do you need something more anonymous do we need to go back to
a TV 2D world where you can kind of be and just like you can have your avatar and you don’t have to
put a face or a name on anything and and we’re willing to open up you know what it looks like to go
next and then I just want to know like how I want to have I want to put out more research about
how effective peer support services are and so based on that I have to kind of dig into
to what are we getting with these online services versus what does it look like face to face and
how are we helping so I can go into hospitals and other establishments and go here’s what’s
happening we already have other research here’s what I found now let’s get going let’s get people
in these spaces so they’re not slipping through the cracks like they are currently so oh that’s
that’s so needed and so huge I think that’s a huge gap in the recovery field is the gap between
like the researchers and the doers right there’s just I don’t know community-based research is
always a big need and a personal passion of mine so it’s good to hear that more people are
interested in that especially for the peer space I totally agree yeah I mean even as we were doing
like customer discovery and trying to better understand you know who’s out there working now
how many peers are working like that information is terribly hard to find and not that I can fill
all those gaps or not that I want to but I I feel like it’s kind of my job since I am a researcher
to be able to put something back out there academically in order to to help the field grow I know a lot
of my friends that are researchers you know doing research on xylazine and wastewater treatment and
like different spaces where it’s also really important but it’s harder in the recovery space
to get a lot of good data and research and really understand what what is working and of course
oftentimes what has the research is what gets the funding right and so and said maybe some of these
programs that are not as individualized getting some of that funding hopefully we we know that
you know individualized care is is where we’re headed and where we should have been headed a long
time ago but I think things like research help it go a lot faster so I want to put back into that
pool and make sure that I get back in that way too I didn’t go to school this long amount to
use all this fancy stuff so right I feel that I’m super something right yeah no I love that do you
what what do you see so you just launched and I’m gonna guess you already have like what you want
to see in like five ten years even if it’s a fuzzy vision yeah so if I close my eyes right now
there’s like the vision that we had to create for all the business things that we went through
like what’s our exit strategy you know and I think if I look at our eyes it started you I don’t
really want that I want to be involved with straight up care for a very very long time to come but I
want to see it grow I want to see it grow into a way where our platform is used for medical
assisted treatment a way to reach people I want it to be care teams working together on our platform
I want peers at the table in every space that I can get them I want to build a workforce appears
so huge that people are like they want them everywhere right like I want I want them to search
out straight up care peers to be at the table for everything and I want to build up people in
recovery so much so that we have their voice at every table so every meeting where we’re talking
about addiction and recovery there is somebody who’s in recovery at those spaces or somebody who is
actively using in those spaces I visualize that we do get into the VR world and what it looks like
to maybe immersevly train people to better understand addiction mental health and recovery and what
it looks like and I think that we just kind of build keep adding on to this straight up care
ecosystem that we’ve created and just yeah straight up care all day every day that’s my goal anyway
I like it I like it um how do how do people get connected with you and straight up care at this
point yeah so you can go to straight up and check out the website if you have any questions
you can you know find us via all the contact links on there um you can reach out to Dr.
Mo at straight up care and I’ll be happy to answer anything that I can or I’ll ship it off to Jonathan
if I don’t have the skills to answer it but yeah reach out like especially if people are peers let’s
let’s get together and let’s let’s work to to make a space where you can do what you do and the way
that you want to do it and even if you don’t want to work online our platform is still totally
applicable for working in person too you don’t make it sure you’re taking notes keeping information
safe it’s appointment reminders it’s payment you know you can still use it face to face which is
what we do I have a street medicine team as well and that’s what we do is street medicine too the
peers that go out with us on the beat and doing rounds are also using our platform in order to
take notes and take take the information in that they need to in order to make sure that they have
everything they need just to do their job correctly and that that’s what we want to do is legitimize
maybe not regulate the heck out of peer supports we don’t want that but we want to legitimize what
we do in a way that makes everybody know that we’re doing it like any other you know profession so
very cool is there anything else you want to share with folks or aspects of straight up care
that I didn’t ask about man I think I got it all in yeah just like kind of to wrap it up you know we
we are a training administrative and compliant tools for peer supports to work with their clients
remotely or face to face so we just we just want to help man we just want to make our
our space and their recovery space even better so nice thank you would it yeah would it make
would it make sorry I just had this thought while you were chat while you were talking or
responding to the last question would it make sense for an organization to reach out and just
like would they be able to use straight up care as like their admin tool yeah absolutely it can be
either a point that they use you know individually if they just have like a couple of peer supports
they could use it that way or if it was something that needed to be integrated into their systems
Jonathan has a way of white labeling and turning it into your own platform as well
so if you have a lot of people that you’re working with and you want to just like whoa this
seems like a cool tool for our organization we can absolutely either use straight up care through
your organization or we can white label it and turn it into you know as if it’s branded for your
organization as well so definitely lots of options and we’re willing to get creative again Jonathan
as a developer he has all the all the skills to make all the magic happen so we’re happy to work
with anyone that that thinks that they can you know bring bring us up or we can bring them up or
you know good partnerships are always always an awesome thing well very cool well dr mo if there’s
nothing else uh i’ll just say thank you so much for being here today and and sharing about straight
up care sounds like some really cool work no thank you absolutely i’m happy to be here thank you for
what you do thank you for connecting with us listeners our goal in sharing stories and information
is to provide hope and resources to the field of peer recovery please join us again next month on
recovery talk you can find our episodes on our website that’s
or wherever you find your podcasts peer recovery center of excellence is funded by the substance
abuse and mental health services administration to enhance peer recovery support services by
expanding access to training and technical assistance services across the country the views expressed
in this podcast do not necessarily reflect the official policies of the department of health and
human services nor does mention of trade names commercial practices or organizations imply
endorsement by the us government talk with you next time

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