National Council for Behavioral Health

Skip to content
Find a Provider
The National Council logo

The National Council for Behavioral Health’s Advocacy Leadership Awards, supported by Sunovion Pharmaceuticals, Inc., recognize individuals and organizations that have led legislative or regulatory advocacy and public policy efforts to expand access to services and supports for persons with mental illnesses and addictions.

The 2015 Call for Nominations is now closed. Award winners will be announced in January 2015.



Winner: Mary Ruiz, President/CEO, Manatee Glens, Bradenton, FL

Mental illness makes the headlines in the context of a tragedy. Families say they could not access the mental healthcare they knew their children needed. The news dies down, and the next family in need is again unable to get care for their child. Mary Ruiz, President/CEO of Manatee Glens, wants to end this vicious cycle. Her untiring advocacy has brought hope to families across Florida.  She mobilized the grassroots and demonstrated to legislators that children and youth with emotional problems can stay at home, in school, and out of trouble if they get needed treatment and robust community supports. She secured $6.75 million in state funding for Community Action Treatment teams to better meet the needs of families with youth with serious behavioral health challenges. CAT teams — the home and community-based alternative to institutionalization — have served  nearly 750 youth, ages 11-21, through integrated health teams offering 24/7 support for mental health, substance use, and primary care needs. Ruiz demonstrated to the Florida House Appropriations Committee that if only nine children were diverted from residential treatment in each CAT Team, it would pay for the services of seventy-five children. She also personalized the issue so legislators could embrace the issue as parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Ruiz knows that only many voices raised together can create a groundswell and shape policy. That’s why she focused as much on building grassroots advocacy as she did on lobbying decision makers.


Winner: Texas Council of Community Centers, Austin, TX

The Texas Council of Community Centers has demonstrated that persistence pays off when it comes to advocacy. As a result of the association’s efforts, Texas is investing more than $300 million to expand and enhance mental health and substance use disorder services. It’s eliminating waiting lists for treatment, supporting the spread of Mental Health First Aid by training thousands of public school teachers and the general public, and allowing community mental health centers to significantly expand current service capacity. The Texas Council prepares centers for a rapidly changing healthcare environment with more opportunities to serve more people with mental illness. By supporting legislation that directs integration of physical and mental health services and promoting the role of community centers in an 1115 demonstration waiver, the Texas Council set the stage for real transformation of mental health service delivery. The association has achieved these remarkable outcomes through strong leadership and collaboration, engaging stakeholders — the Texas Association of Counties, Conference of Urban Counties, Sheriff’s Association of Texas, and County Judges and Commissioners Association — and inspiring them to fight for mental health funding to build stronger communities.


Winner: John Kasich, Governor of the State of Ohio, Columbus, OH

Governor Kasich fought a long and hard battle to get Ohio on board with Medicaid expansion, benefiting thousands of Ohioans with substance use and mental disorders. Despite strong opposition, Gov. Kasich was firm in his support for Medicaid expansion, telling critics that they “need to walk a mile in the other person’s shoes.” He insisted that Medicaid expansion would benefit those with the greatest need. Since 2012, he worked around the state to coalesce opinions on this issue across business, healthcare, education, behavioral health, law enforcement, consumer and other leaders. Gov. Kasich has helped to extend Medicaid coverage to 275,000 low-income Ohioans. His $2.5 billion budget “adjustment” approved by the Ohio Controlling Board injects $482 million of federal Medicaid expansion funds into the current fiscal year’s budget and another $2 billion into the following fiscal year. Gov. Kasich says “I had a chance to… bring Ohio money back to Ohio to do some things that frankly needed to be done. And that’s to treat the mentally ill, to get them across the bridge so they can get employment… And also to make sure the working poor have a system that makes sense, instead of showing up and getting all their healthcare in emergency rooms.” Ohio expects that 60,000 people with addiction disorders and another 55,000 with mental illnesses will be covered as a result of Medicaid expansion.



Exceptional Individual Achievement in Advocacy
Winner: Sue Abderholden, Executive Director, NAMI Minnesota


Sue Abderholden, Executive Director, NAMI Minnesota30 years of advocacy culminated this year when Sue Abderholden engineered a sorely needed financial investment in Minnesota’s children’s mental health system. A major factor in her decision that 2013 should be the year for children’s mental health was the public response to two mental health-related shootings: the one in Newtown, Connecticut and another in her home city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. After the shootings, state legislators clamored for changes to gun laws and to the mental health system. Abderholden was concerned about the public’s overemphasis on the relationship between violence and mental illness. She quickly took action to reframe the issue. On New Year’s Eve 2012, she invited two long-time colleagues and children’s mental health professionals to her home to brainstorm legislative provisions. The three advocates rang in the New Year having generated 29 ideas for legislative change. These ideas were built into 12 bills introduced in February 2012, and by the time the legislature adjourned in May, 17 of the 29 ideas had passed and were signed by the governor. Strong leadership was necessary to divert the legislature’s impulse to enact potentially discriminating policies. Abderholden provided that leadership.  As a result, the 2013 Minnesota legislature paid proper attention to the critical need to develop a robust children’s mental health system.

  • Linda Raines, Chief Executive Officer, Mental Health Association of Maryland
  • Debra Wentz, New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc.
Outstanding Organizational Leadership in Advocacy
Winner: The Carter Center Mental Health Program


6a00d8341df99053ef014e8689aaf8970d-800wiThe Carter Center Mental Health Program has kept mental health at the forefront of our dialogue since its inception in 1991. The Center informs public policy, promotes awareness, and reduces discrimination against people with mental illnesses. And affords the mental health community the continued guidance of First Lady Rosalynn Carter — the nation’s most passionate and tireless ambassador for mental health. The annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy brings together mental health leaders, policymakers, consumers and families — the conversations are sometimes provocative, but never dull. And most importantly, the symposiums have served as a call to action on issues ranging from military mental health to integration to the needs of children and youth. The Cater Mental Health Program’s tireless efforts to overcome the discrimination associated with mental illness led to a key role in facilitating the landmark settlement between Georgia and the Department of Justice, revitalizing and redirecting the state’s investment in mental health services. And it was the Carter Center’s leadership that recognized the vital role of peer support services, and resulted in Medicaid reimbursement for the peer workforce.

  • Association for Behavioral Healthcare (Massachusetts)
  • Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council
Visionary Leadership in Behavioral Health by an Elected Official
Winner: Darrell Steinberg, California Senate President pro Tempore


Darrell-Steinberg copySenator Darrell Steinberg staked his political career on mental health. As a young attorney, he represented a state employee who had been fired because he had a mental illness. Since then mental health has been a priority for him — first as an assembly member and now as California’s senate leader. Sen. Steinberg has been the driving force behind legislative initiatives that have revolutionized California’s mental healthcare, from a three-county homeless pilot in 1999 that he-coauthored, to the Mental Health Services Act, enacted through Proposition 63, and onto the Investment in Mental Health Wellness Act of 2013.  His gamble gave voice to the millions of Californians who, though quiet about their experiences, needed and wanted a better system. In 2013, Sen. Steinberg planned ambitiously as the State closed its budget gap; as a result, with the support of his legislative caucus, mental healthcare was the largest augmentation (outside of education) in this year’s budget—for the first time in state history.  And he was successful in his efforts to include mental health and substance abuse services as essential health benefits within the State’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act. With his reputation for integrity, a deft approach to complex policy, and strong community goodwill, Sen. Steinberg has brought innovative and lasting change to the country’s most populous state. He formed two bipartisan legislative groups on mental health policy to develop coordinated strategies for future legislation.  And he’s driving forward his $10 billion federal investment plan with a dollar-for-dollar match for states prepared to build cost effective and lifesaving mental health systems.

  • Gene DiGirolamo, Pennsylvania State Representative
  • Matt Hudson, Florida State Representative
Lifetime Achievement in Advocacy
Winner: Ron Brand, Former Executive Director, Minnesota Association of Community Mental Health Programs


Ron Brand, Former Executive Director, Minnesota Association of Community Mental Health ProgramsRon Brand’s 20-year advocacy career is a catalog of exceptional and innovative achievements. His passion for improving access to behavioral healthcare is surpassed only by his political acumen. In Minnesota, Brand led the fight for expanded Medicaid rehabilitative services. His ongoing efforts have resulted in major investments in mental health by the state legislature. And during the state’s transition to integrated Medicaid managed care, his work was critical to preserving and enhancing access to mental healthcare. His efforts protected consumers and their families when they were most at risk. With his understanding of changing political tides and his faith in the power of grassroots advocacy, he supported and guided many policy initiatives for the National Council for Behavioral Health. He led us to new frontiers during his leadership of the Council’s association executives and public policy committees.