Steinberg Institute

Here we highlight just a sampling of the crusaders and visionaries whose efforts have helped light the way forward for mental health care in California. The list is far from complete, and we’ll continue to build, bringing you the stories of champions working to transform the treatment landscape and elevate mental health as a public policy priority.

Ann Collentine

Deputy Director for Programs, California Mental Health Services Authority

IMPACT: Ann has worked for better mental health services ever since seeing children's unmet needs while running a nonprofit two decades ago

Ann is leading a $102 million statewide initiative in which 15 counties and cities are using technology to provide new kinds of mental health services, including online chat for support, virtual avatars for coaching and education, and the use of passive data collected from smartphones or tablets of informed and willing users that may indicate signs of possible developing mental health problems.

Barbara Wilson

Director, Mental Health Hook Up

IMPACT: Barbara has worked for decades to help people with mental illness get community-based support

Barbara Wilson, a veteran mental health worker with nearly five decades of experience, is glad for the progress California has made in addressing the needs of people with mental illness. At the same time, Wilson, who runs a Santa Clarita-based agency that helps people get treatment, wants the state to rediscover some formulas that once worked well – notably the use of well-funded board and care homes combined with community activities and supports.

Stephen V. Manley

Superior Court Judge, Santa Clara County

IMPACT: A tireless innovator of court programs that substitute treatment and accountability for traditional punishment

For over 20 years, Judge Manley locally and nationally has championed the development of special court programs aimed at getting offenders with mental illness, substance use disorders, or both, into treatment and out of jail. He supervises more than 2,300 offenders on probation or parole.

Marina Castillo-Augusto

Chief of the Community Development and Engagement Unit, Office of Health Equity, California Department of Public Health

IMPACT: Marina is leading the $60 million dollar California Reducing Disparities Project to reduce mental health inequities in particular populations

Marina did not set out to work in the mental health arena. The need for counseling and other mental health support was a consistent theme, however, during the decades that Marina worked as an advocate for women crime victims.

Jeremy Wilson

Senior Program Manager, California Mental Health Services Authority

IMPACT: Jeremy is passionate about spreading messages of encouragement and hope about mental health and substance use disorders.

Jeremy oversees contractors working in prevention and early intervention, notably the “Each Mind Matters: California’s Mental Health Movement” campaign to reduce stigma and discrimination, promote student mental health, and prevent suicide.

Ahmad Bahrami

Division Manager-Public Behavioral Health/Ethnic Services Manager

IMPACT: Ahmad strives to make services accessible to diverse groups

Ahmad is leading a new division within the Fresno County Department of Behavioral Health that is focused on engagement and ethnic services. AHMAD’S STORY

Jodi Nerell

Director, Behavioral Health Integration, Sacramento Covered

IMPACT: Jodi works relentlessly to connect homeless people with aid services

Jodi Nerell jumped to help launch Sacramento’s Pathways to Home + Health initiative, a federal pilot program that aims to get them into housing and receiving health care.

Jei Africa

Director of Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Marin County

IMPACT: Jei, California's first openly transgender county behavioral health director, wants to meet everyone where they are.

Jei wants responsive systems in place to meet everyone where they are, without a lot of barriers to care.

Jei’s story >

Karen Larsen

Director, Yolo County Health and Human Services Agency

IMPACT: Giving new definition to integrated care

Karen Larsen shines a beacon of innovation from Yolo County, where she has led the Health and Human Services Agency since May 2016, with a special focus on knocking down silos and redefining what it means to provide whole-person, whole-community care.

Karen’s story >

Vic Ojakian

Former Palo Alto mayor; activist

IMPACT: Scaling up suicide prevention

Vic Ojakian lives with the wound of having lost a son to suicide. He knows the ache of loving and missing someone who by all rights should still be at your side.

Vic’s story >

Steve Fields

Executive Director, Progress Foundation

IMPACT: A pioneering force for residential treatment

For half a century, Steve Fields has poured heart, soul, passion and intellect into creating and sustaining a true continuum of community-based care.

STEVE’S story >

Larry Brown

Sacramento Superior Court Judge

IMPACT: A trailblazer for mental health court

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Larry Brown presides over an outstanding example of mental health court.

Judge Brown’s story >

Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola

Director, UC Davis Center for Reducing Health Disparities

IMPACT: Tackling disparities in mental health care for Latino communities

Dr. Sergio Aguilar-Gaxiola has dedicated his career to identifying and addressing the unmet mental health needs of under-served populations. He has pioneered treatment models that recognize the unique cultural and linguistic needs of different populations, work that has been crucial to bridging disparities in care for Latino and rural communities, in particular.

Dr. Aguilar-Gaxiola’s story >

Diane Cummins

Special Adviser to the Governor

IMPACT: Promoting statewide investment in mental health services.

Diane Cummins, Special Adviser to the Governor, has worked tirelessly to create a robust financial foundation for California’s mental health delivery system.

Diane’s story >

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris

Founder and CEO, Center for Youth Wellness

IMPACT: Highlighting the psychological impacts of childhood trauma

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris has been a driving force in establishing the science that explains the potentially debilitating effects of adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, on the physical and mental health of growing children.

Dr. Burke Harris’ story >

State Senator Richard Pan

California Senator, District 6

IMPACT: Fostering leadership and oversight in CA’s mental health system

Senator Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, has stepped up to make mental health care a political priority in California and is attacking barriers to quality care with his effective blend of analytical acuity, determination and pointed discussion.

Sen. Pan’s story >

Drs. Cameron Carter and Tara Niendam

Founder/Executive Director, UC Davis Medical Center Early Psychosis Program

IMPACT: Advancing early intervention in psychosis-related illness

Hats off to Dr. Cameron Carter and Dr. Tara Niendam for helping hundreds of young people in the early stages of psychosis-related illness learn not only to manage their brain illness but to thrive.

The story of
Drs. Carter and Niendam >

Dr. Steven Adelsheim

Director, Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing

IMPACT: Reshaping the treatment paradigm for youth mental illness

We are grateful for the work of Dr. Steven Adelsheim, Director of the Stanford Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing. Dr. Adelsheim has been a thoughtful and determined champion for early, intensive intervention with young people at risk of brain illness and for integrating those services into school and community settings.

Dr. Adelsheim’s story >

Sally Zinman

Executive Director, California Association of Mental Health Peer Run Organizations

IMPACT: Giving voice to the rights of people living with brain illness

Sally Zinman has forged strength from a place of pain, emerging as a bright and unwavering beacon for the mental health consumer movement.

Sally’s story >

State Senator Jim Beall

California State Senator, District 15

IMPACT: Embracing mental health as a legislative priority

We salute Senator Jim Beall, a San Jose Democrat who for years has claimed mental health as a priority, infusing his legislative efforts with passion and intellect as he has worked to strengthen our safety net of care.

Sen. Beall’s story >

Rusty Selix

Co-author, Mental Health Services Act

IMPACT: An unwavering voice for mental health care reform

The indomitable Rusty Selix is a co-author of the Mental Health Services Act and the former longtime head of the CA Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies. His decades of advocacy have transformed the landscape for mental health treatment in California.

Rusty’s story >