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National Council for Behavioral Health Honors Excellence in Addiction Treatment, Behavioral Health Integration, Advocacy

April 25, 2018

Joy Burwell
(202) 748-8789

Awards of Excellence honorees celebrated at NatCon18 gala

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD – Decreasing inappropriate use of opioids and supporting evidence-based tools to fight the opioid epidemic, boosting integrated mental health treatment and Mental Health First Aid training for police are among the themes of this year’s National Council for Behavioral Health Awards of Excellence.

Last night, at a gala celebration outside the nation’s capital, the National Council for Behavioral Health honored leaders who used technology to overcome systemic problems, pioneers who built unique community behavioral health practices and elected leaders who put aside partisan differences for the good of their constituents.

Eighteen individuals and organizations were honored during the event at the NatCon18, the National Council’s annual conference, outside Washington, D.C.

“The Awards of Excellence honor the best and the brightest in behavioral health,” said Linda Rosenberg, president and CEO of the National Council. “We honor the changemakers, the innovators and the visionary leaders. And we honor the advocates, the agitators and the change champions. We honor these leaders because they are not afraid to stand up and say, ‘We will be heard!’”

Award categories ranged from the Change Champion Award given to Born This Way Foundation, the organization co-founded by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, to the Doc of the Year, Christian Moher, who reduced opiate prescribing, and to visionaries across the country.

The Scattergood Foundation and the National Council teamed to bestow an Innovation Award on Kristina Saffran, the founder of Project HEAL, a peer recovery program for people living with eating disorders. Saffran was selected by her peers at NatCon18 through a voting process.

NOTE TO PHOTO EDITORS: Photos of award winners are available on the National Council’s Flickr account at  Please contact if you have a specific photo request.

About the National Council for Behavioral Health

The National Council for Behavioral Health is the unifying voice of America’s health care organizations that deliver mental health and addictions treatment and services. Together with our 2,900 member organizations serving over 10 million adults, children and families living with mental illnesses and addictions, the National Council is committed to all Americans having access to comprehensive, high-quality care that affords every opportunity for recovery. The National Council introduced Mental Health First Aid USA and more than 1 million Americans have been trained. For more information, please visit

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Change Champion Award, Sponsored by the National Council for Behavioral Health

Born this Way Foundation, Los Angeles, California

Co-founded by Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta, Born This Way Foundation held Mental Health First Aid trainings along all U.S. stops of the 2017 Joanne World Tour. All totaled, 150,000 concert-goers took the training and as part of their engagement with the Foundation, were urged to create a kinder, braver world. “Everyone should feel empowered to share their story and discuss their mental wellness without fear of judgment,” said Germanotta. “Mental Health First Aid is a powerful tool to help demystify mental health and break down barriers to treatment.”

Innovation Award, Sponsored by Scattergood

Kristina Saffran, Project HEAL, Douglaston, New York

Initially created as a program to raise money for those who could not afford treatment for eating disorders, Kristina Saffran founded Project HEAL after seeing firsthand that many clients experienced relapse due to a lack of inexpensive step-down care from residential or acute programs. In this gap, Kristina created Communities of HEALing, the first peer mentorship program for people with eating disorders. This year, Project HEAL is embarking on a partnership with the Columbia University Eating Disorders Research Program to study the program in a randomized controlled trial. The program continues to grow, with plans to replicate in their 40 Project HEAL chapters across the U.S.

Doc of the Year, Sponsored by Envolve

Christian Moher, Community Partners Integrated Healthcare, Tucson, Arizona

Becoming aware of his clinic’s and his own high level of prescribing opiates led Christian Moher to an awakening. Using electronic medical records and an online pharmacy database, he helped 70 percent of the clinic’s members on a 120 mg. morphine-equivalent dose decrease their level of opiate use and weaned some off completely. More than that, Dr. Moher integrated nutritionists, pharmacy leaders and peer services to create a wellness program that resulted in a 65 percent reduction in depression and 72 percent decrease in anxiety. How did he succeed? Dr. Moher said, “I learned to listen, so that the goals of our members could be heard.”

Excellence in Addictions Treatment, Sponsored by MyStrength

Helen Ross McNabb Center, Knoxville, Tennessee

The East Tennessee not-for-profit’s vice president, Mona Blanton-Kitts said, “The largest barrier to treatment is [mothers] having to leave their babies. We eliminated this barrier.” Their neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS) continuum of care program achieved impressive results for pregnant and parenting women, as well as infants born with NAS. In the first half of 2017, 71 percent successfully completed a program for women who live with their children for six-to-nine months (the national average is 47 percent) and 80 percent of families were discharged into safe, stable housing with 87 percent reporting no substance use.

Excellence in Advocacy – Individual Achievement, Sponsored by Sunovion

Constance Peters, Association for Behavioral Healthcare, Natick, Massachusetts

When funding for addiction services in Massachusetts was down and advocates were more like adversaries, Constance Peters formed a state coalition uniting various groups around a common purpose. She said, “It truly takes many people, with a common vision, and speaking with one voice for change to happen.” The stellar results since 2003 are a 341 percent increase in funding, increased use of medication-assisted treatment (MAT) and more beds for patients enduring the rigors of addiction recovery.

Excellence in Advocacy by an Organization, Sponsored by Sunovion

Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association, Tallahassee, Florida

With 14 individuals dying daily from opioid overdoses, the Florida Alcohol & Drug Abuse Association (FADAA) developed an awareness plan in 2017 because, according to FADAA executive director and National Council board member, Mark Fontaine, “Mental illness or substance use disorder is a treatable medical condition deserving appropriate care.” FADAA coordinated with elected officials and launched their legislative strategy. Five substantive bills were enacted on comprehensive ethical marketing and increased funding for MAT. As a result, Palm Beach County made nearly four dozen fraud and patient brokering arrests and shut down four unethical “sober” homes.

Excellence in Advocacy by Elected Officials, Sponsored by Sunovion

Kansas Republican Senator and Majority Leader Jim Denning and Democratic Representative Kathy Wolfe Moore, Topeka, Kansas

Jim Denning and Kathy Wolfe Moore formed a bipartisan team to shift funding from a long-serving, but soon-to-close Kansas City area mental health center, into a new program. The sobering and crisis stabilization units for jail inmates with mental illnesses were created and expanded services for a two-county area that is serving as a model elsewhere in Kansas. As a result, Denning said, “We have transformed the mental health delivery landscape in Kansas.”

Excellence in Behavioral Health Care Management, Sponsored by MHRGG Negley

Mental Health Center of Denver, Denver, Colorado

The Mental Health Center of Denver’s (MHCD) eclectic Dahlia Campus is more than just a mental health facility, as it boasts a greenhouse, gardens, a pediatric dental clinic, a gym and a pre-school – all to increase the community’s food security, dental health and, of course, mental health care. “When our ideas about what would be helpful met the heartfelt vision of the community, it created something beyond imagination,” said president and CEO, Carl Clark. Results are still coming in, but MHCD expects to increase preventative services and decrease chronic disease management expenses.

Excellence in Mental Health First Aid Community Impact, Sponsored by Mental Health First Aid

The Southern Arizona Mental Health First Aid Program, Tucson, Arizona

Arrest, use of force and death were too frequent outcomes when police confront people with mental illnesses, so the Tucson Police Department and Pima County Sheriff’s Department took steps to reverse the unsettling trends. Their mantra is, “Yes to treatment, yes to alternatives to incarceration and yes to care and compassion,” said Jason Winsky of the Tucson Police. They trained 100 percent of their officers, dispatchers and corrections officers in Mental Health First Aid, a first-aid-for-the-mind-program taught to public safety officials and others. But 2,500 First Aiders weren’t enough, so the Southern Arizona group is now training smaller departments and members of the communities they serve.

Mental Health First Aid Business Leadership AwardSponsored by Mental Health First Aid

Netsmart, Overland Park, Kansas

Netsmart is a champion of Mental Health First Aid. The company is being honored for demonstrating a commitment to the delivery of Mental Health First Aid USA trainings within their organization and beyond. The company trained more than 500 Netsmart employees in the program and plans to offer the training to local communities.

Excellence in Technology, Sponsored by Qualifacts

Crisis Tech 360 LLC, Atlanta, Georgia

RI International was managing its admissions and discharges using a low-tech, centrally located dry erase board. RI’s CEO and president, David Covington said, “[To] dramatically improve access and throughput for our crisis programs … we had to leave the post-it notes, white boards and voicemails behind.” In partnership with Behavioral Health Link, they created Crisis Tech 360 and upped their game considerably. Now RI uses Crisis Tech 360 for up-to-the-minute census information on its 200 beds and has increased its occupancy rates without increasing length of stay.

Excellence in Whole Person Care, Sponsored by Envolve

Memorial Healthcare System, Hollywood, Florida

The South Florida safety-net provider has close to 120,000 outpatient visits a year and found ways to improve its quality of care. MAT was adopted last year to combat the opioid epidemic and behavioral and mental health care were integrated. As a result, nearly 100 patients have enrolled in MAT, three-quarters of whom are drug free and integration has resulted in a significant decline in emergency department admissions. Behind it all, Memorial Healthcare System’s Joyce Myatt, director, outpatient center for behavioral health, said, “Stigma and shame should not be an impediment to care. Integrated health care must continue to evolve. Mental and physical health are intertwined and cannot be separated.”

Peer Specialist of the Year, Sponsored by Envolve

Emily Grossman, Organizational Development Specialist, The Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services, New York, New York

Emily Grossman has turned what she calls the “poisonous” condition of bipolar disorder into the “medicine” that not only healed her, but became her life’s work – peer specialist. In a psychiatric hospital, she heard the voice of her mother in her head tell her, “Emily, one day you are going to help so many people because of this experience!” Grossman has written two books, speaks to colleges, blogs, maintains an active social media presence and trains burgeoning specialists to disclose their illnesses to help those they serve. She has reached thousands of people and has helped clients enter the workforce, go to school and lead productive lives.

Visionary Leadership, Sponsored by the National Council for Behavioral Health

David Woodlock, ICL, New York City, New York

Through his book, “Emotional Dimensions of Healthcare,” David Woodlock advanced the public conversation around integrated treatment, the emotional impact of trauma (he lost both parents before he was 22) and the social determinants of health on outcomes and recovery. Woodlock’s unique perspective led to the development of ICL in East New York where, with the teamwork of a medical provider, it is working to eliminate health disparities.

Visionary Leadership, Sponsored by National Council for Behavioral Health

Howard Hitzel, BestSelf Behavioral Health, Inc., Buffalo, New York

During 20 years at the helm, Howard Hitzel has grown BestSelf into the largest non-profit behavioral health provider in Western New York with a budget that increased by six-fold during his tenure. BestSelf is involved in seemingly every cutting-edge development in behavioral health. It is a Certified Community Behavioral Health (CCBHC) pilot at 12 of its sites, offers same day access for MAT to curb the cravings for opioid addiction, employs more than 20 peers and has an intensive residential rehabilitation program for pregnant and parenting women. As a result of his vision, Dr. Hitzel said, “We are making measurable differences in peoples’ lives.”

Visionary Leadership, Sponsored by National Council for Behavioral Health

John Van Camp, Southwest Solutions, Detroit, Michigan

John Van Camp lives by the belief that, “Community is an intervention, and when you have community it is so much more powerful than any government safety-net.” Southwest Solutions, which boasts 50 programs serving 20,000 people a year, is a national model of holistic services and comprehensive neighborhood revitalization. Manifested in his belief that reviving Detroit was key to reintegrating people with mental illness and the homeless back into the community, he built an entire subdivision and a Federally Qualified Health Center from scratch.

Visionary Leadership, Sponsored by National Council for Behavioral Health

Terry Crocker, CEO, Tropical Texas Behavioral Health, Edinburg, Texas

Tropical Texas Behavioral Health (TTBH) was down to its last dollars when Terry Crocker took over as CEO in 2003 and created a more viable business model to grow the agency in a sustainable way. Now, TTBH has quadruple the staff since Crocker became CEO, increased its number of mental health patients by 181 percent and cut its cost-per-patient in half. He urged everyone working in the mental health field to speak up, because, “If we don’t make our voices heard, people with mental health issues remain in the shadows.”

Visionary Leadership, Sponsored by National Council for Behavioral Health

Martha Whitecotton, Atrium Health (formerly Carolinas HealthCare System), Charlotte, North Carolina

Despite a severe shortage of psychiatric beds in North and South Carolina, 29 counties with no psychiatrists at all, a 41 percent increase in patients and drastically reduced funding from the two states, Martha Whitecotton has found ways to make progress for patients because, “through them we experience how difficult the world is to navigate for those least able to navigate it.”  With her team at Atrium, Whitecotton built a new behavioral health center, ramped up use of telepsychiatry, created a patient placement department just for behavioral health care and contracted with a new transport company to reduce that burden from police.

The Awards of Excellence are supported by Sunovion, Envolve, Mental Health First Aid USA, Mental Health Risk Retention Group, Inc., Negley,  MyStrength, Qualifacts and Scattergood Foundation.