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Celebration of Excellence

The National Council was proud to celebrate the accomplishments of 2017 Awards of Excellence honorees during the Celebration of Excellence in Seattle at NatCon17. Twenty-two awards were presented to honor individuals and organizations demonstrating innovative ways to improve the lives of Americans living with mental illnesses and addictions.

If you missed the Celebration of Excellence, you can access a Facebook Live recording of the event and interviews with honorees on the National Council Facebook page.

To view photos from the 2017 Celebration of Excellence, visit our Flickr page.


2017 Honorees

Champions of Excellence

Supported by Relias Learning

Harriet Hall, Jefferson Center for Mental Health, Wheat Ridge, CO

“… one of my most important leadership lessons came in the aftermath of Columbine. We quickly learned that we couldn’t adequately care for the community if we didn’t care for ourselves. I had to learn to take care of staff and we had to learn to take care of ourselves. I also had to remember that I’m not essential to everything, that I can trust in my team. Because I haven’t done my job well if others can’t carry on effectively without my constant guidance. I really want to share this award with the entire leadership team and all the staff at Jefferson Center who dedicate themselves to care for the community we serve.” – Harriet Hall


Change Champion Award

Chirlane McCray, First Lady of New York City

“Through ThriveNYC, we have made a commitment to train 250,000 New Yorkers in Mental Health First Aid within five years. Now, a quarter-million is a big number. But I’m pleased to report that we are already ahead of schedule, and that has so much to do with the support we’ve received from the National Council for Mental Wellbeing.” – Chirlane McCray


Doc of the Year

Supported by Envolve

Margie Balfour, ConnectionsAZ, Inc., Tuscon, AZ

“How do we get quality care to the people who actually need it? That’s the challenge. Using an approach that is at once data driven and laser focused on client needs to overhaul the clinical practice at the Tucson, Arizona Crisis Response Center, [Margie Balfour] has dramatically improved outcomes. She even developed and published her own outcomes measure set for facility-based crisis services, expanding the impact of her innovations around the country.” – Don Miskowiec, President and Chief Executive Officer. North Central Behavioral Health Systems


Excellence in Addictions Treatment

Supported by myStrength, Inc. 

Keith Walker, Walker Funeral Homes, Toledo, OH

“I first met Keith Walker about two years ago, when he came to the Zepf Center, looking to partner on the Help with Heroin campaign. I’ll never forget what he said to me about why he started the campaign, ‘the people who are dying are our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and friends. Our funeral homes have a responsibility to do what we can about these deaths and to get the word out that help is only a call away.’” – Jennifer Moses, CEO of the Zepf Center


Excellence in Addictions Treatment

Supported by myStrength, Inc. 

Rosecrance, Rockford, IL

“The Rosecrance Florian program serves a unique population, meeting the needs and challenges of first responders who need substance abuse treatment. These are men and women who never considered or imagined the benefits of group therapy. Now, they are finding peace, guidance, faith and solace knowing that they are not alone.” — Philip W. Eaton, President and Chief Executive Officer, Rosecrance


Excellence in Advocacy – Individual Achievement

Supported by Sunovion Pharmaceuticals

Molly Carney, Evergreen Treatment Services, Seattle, WA

“Even with growing recognition of the opioid crisis, there are still many pockets of the country where medication-assisted treatment programs are stigmatized and rejected by policymakers. We must continue to change this. With persistence and by truly listening and responding to stakeholders’ concerns, I have found it is possible to change the minds of even the most staunchly opposed officials.”


Excellence in Advocacy by an Elected Official

Supported by Sunovion Pharmaceuticals

State Representative K. Joseph Shekarchi, Warwick, RI

“Senator Archambault and Representative Shekarchi worked together on this legislation, which protects the health and welfare of people with mental illnesses and addictions and the safety of Rhode Island’s police officers.” Rich Leclerc, President and CEO of Gateway Healthcare


Excellence in Advocacy by an Elected Official

Supported by Sunovion Pharmaceuticals

State Senator Stephen R. Archambault, Smithfield, RI

“My heart swells with the knowledge that this training will help countless people with serious mental illnesses without criminalizing them. We have a responsibility in society to make sure we address these needs, and Rhode Island deserves a pat on the back for this great work.” – Sen. Stephen R. Archambault


Excellence in Artistic Expression

Logan Lynn, Trillium Family Services, Portland, OR

“It wasn’t until a trauma-informed behavioral health specialist asked me, ‘What has happened to you?’ in my final stint in rehab that I was able to finally connect to the origins of my suffering and begin to heal. I just celebrated 9 years in long-term recovery from addiction, thanks to the work of people like you and a small army of people who always believed in my inherent dignity and worth, even when I was too sick to believe it myself.”


Excellence in Behavioral Healthcare Management

Supported by the Mental Health Risk Retention Group and Negley Associates

Meridian Behavioral Healthcare, Gainesville, FL

“This program is especially meaningful to us because it brings Meridian’s vision of hope, recovery and wellness to some of the most disenfranchised members of our community. For example, when one participant enrolled, he had been out of prison for only 6 months of his 36-year adult life due to numerous violent infractions. Although there were challenges along the way, including a return trip to jail, he has now been in treatment and out of jail for multiple years, and has not committed any violent offenses. His success story is just one among the hundreds of people the forensic program has touched.” – Maggie Labarta, Chief Operating Officer, Meridian Behavioral Health


Excellence in Mental Health First Aid Community Impact

Supported by the Missouri Department of Mental Health

Mental Health First Aid for New Jersey, Springfield, NJ 

“Mental Health First Aid has great benefits for instructors, trainees and the communities they serve, but it goes even further. The program is a key catalyst for stigma-reduction efforts and, over time, will help us move toward deeper integration of physical and mental health care. It is our hope the model we’ve pioneered in New Jersey will be adopted by other states around the country, further extending its impact.” – Bob Kley, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of Mental Health Association in New Jersey


Excellence in Technology

Supported by Qualifacts, Inc.

Burrell Behavioral Health, Springfield, MO

“This program is making a real difference. Let me tell you a quick story. An officer repeatedly encountered a citizen so agitated he could be subdued only with a Taser. In their fifth encounter, the officer had a VMCI iPad. The officer was able to connect the person in crisis to a trained crisis counselor, and then to community based care. So, we have a new t-shirt tagline: Using Tablets Instead of

Tasers!” – Paul Thomlinson, Vice President of Research and Quality Assurance, Burrell Behavioral Health


Excellence in Technology

Sponsored by Qualifacts

Grand Lake Mental Health Center, Inc., Nowata, OK.

“Thanks to the efforts of the Grand Lake Mental Health Center team and other organizations, iPad technology and HIPAA-compliant FaceTime communication is being used by medical personnel, law enforcement officers, GLMHC staff and consumers in seven rural Oklahoma counties. It enables us to provide service when and where the consumer needs it. In the first five months of the program alone, 62 percent of potential inpatient psychiatric admissions were diverted to outpatient or virtual care instead.” – Larry Smith, Chief Operating Officer, Grand Lake Mental Health Center, Inc.


Excellence in Whole Person Care

Supported by Envolve

Carolinas HealthCare System, Charlotte, NC

“… the ultimate reward is saving lives. Of clients who came to the BHI program reporting suicidal ideation, 83 percent no longer had these thoughts on graduation. For me this is worth everything.” – Dr. Manuel Castro, Chief Clinical Officer of Behavioral Health, Carolinas HealthCare System



Peer Specialist of the Year

Supported by Envolve

Robert Ortiz, Fellowship Health Resources, Inc., New Bedford, MA

“To my fellow Peer Workers and Specialists, I say never give up hope – on yourself, or others – and always be vigilant in supporting anyone and everyone we can.” – Robert Ortiz


Rising Star

Supported by Relias Learning

Paul Rada, Truman Medical Center, Lees Summit, MO

“During school, I had a patient in hospice, with family rushing across country to be by her side. She could communicate only in writing. At the end of my clinical day, she handed me a note, ‘Will you please hold my hand for a little while?’ I nodded yes. One hour turned into five, and staff urged me to leave, promising I’d return the next day. Another note, ‘Just 15 more minutes please?’ Staff insisted I leave, so I apologized, and said, ‘Goodnight.’ The next morning, her room was empty; she passed away an hour after I left. Since then, I’ve been trying to get back those 15 minutes by giving them to someone else.” – Paul Rada


Visionary Leadership

Arthur Evans, Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Philadelphia, PA

“As a field, we’ve made strides in helping society recognize how behavioral health issues affect every aspect of our lives. But we must keep pushing the envelope, drawing outside the lines to reach more people and improve our effectiveness. As I assume my new role as CEO for the American Psychological Association, I am excited to have an opportunity to draw on our collective experiences to shape the national policy discussion to more effectively address the behavioral health needs of our society.” – Dr. Arthur Evans


Visionary Leadership

Steve Lepinski, Washburn Center for Children, Minneapolis, MN

“Through awareness programs like Washburn’s Break the Silence campaign, we’ve made progress in using evidence to treat children and have reduced stigma. Parents are more willing to address anxiety, ADHD and other behavioral health issues and to get support earlier.” – Steve Lipinski


Visionary Leadership

Danis Russell, Flint, MI

 “When a public health crisis strikes a community, caring for residents’ behavioral health is just as critical as their physical well-being. And nowhere have we seen this more vividly than in Flint, Mich. [Danis Russell] has worked tirelessly with his team at Genesee Health System to address needs specifically related to the crisis. You can imagine the anxiety, the fear, the distrust that has pervaded the people of Flint. Children were poisoned, and we do not know how bad it will get. This honoree is in the trenches with these families, keeping an eye on the long-term, but helping them get through the day to day.” — Don Miskowiec, President and Chief Executive Officer, North Central Behavioral Health Systems


Visionary Leadership

Phillip (Randy) Tate, NorthCare, Oklahoma City, OK

“Vision starts with a determination to never give up; never let elected officials off the hook. But recognize that you can never rely on government for all you need. That reality has fueled many of our innovative initiatives, like bringing a pharmacy into NorthCare and many other community mental health centers, as both a convenience to clients and an essential revenue stream.” – Randy Tate


Innovation Award

Sponsored by Scattergood Foundation

Hopeworks ‘n Camden, Camden, NJ

Dan Rhoton and Gemyra Wynn

By presenting information about adverse childhood experiences in an engaging and non-traditional way, the young people of the Youth Healing Team are working to spread the information about the effects of trauma to audiences who would not normally hear about it.


President’s Award for Innovative Advocacy

Jack Bookbinder and Gene Bowen, Road Recovery

“Behavioral health treatment is never one-size fits all. The more treatment can be tailored to the unique circumstances, needs and interests of a person, the more successful it will be in their recovery. The founders of Road Recovery have used their love of music and experience in the music industry to both reach individual young people who thrive in this supportive environment and showcase the music they create to spread the word that treatment works.” – Linda Rosenberg, President and Chief Executive Officer, National Council for Mental Wellbeing

Thank you to our supporters

Questions about this year’s awards? Email or call 866-362-0505.