Karen Larsen, LMFT
Karen Larsen brings a rich history of public service and proven leadership to the role of the Steinberg Institute’s first Chief Executive Officer. As a natural result of her own life’s experience, her academic training, and the thirty years of recovery she has achieved, she possesses an unwavering passion and extraordinary ability to improve the lives of California’s most vulnerable communities.
Prior to joining the Steinberg Institute, Karen served as the Director of Yolo County’s Health and Human Services Agency, an integrated agency providing social services, public health, mental health, and substance abuse services to the over 212,000 residents of Davis, W. Sacramento, Winters, and Woodland. Prior to her work at the county, Karen spent 20 years caring for uninsured, undocumented, and underserved people in community clinics and non-profit agencies. Her commitment to integrating care has not only ensured people receive the care they need but has exponentially improved the outcomes for those who have both a behavioral health challenge and other comorbid physical health conditions. Her leadership has inspired others to build bridges across systems as a mechanism for improving outcomes between health systems, the criminal justice community, school districts, cities, and many other key stakeholder groups and organizations. This innovative model has served as a beacon that has cleared the way for the development of innumerable innovative programs with braided funding streams that maximized services for those in need across the state.
In addition to her work at the local level, Karen has been an active member of many statewide groups engaging in cross-system collaboration to address all determinants of health, including the California Welfare Directors Association and California Behavioral Health Directors Association where she co-chaired the Children’s Committee and Criminal Justice Committee. Karen also plays a leadership role on the Child Welfare Council as the co-chair of the Behavioral Health Committee; on the CalAIM Foster Care Model of Care Workgroup; and, as a member of California’s Department of Health Care Services’ Behavioral Health Stakeholder Advisory Committee. She also is a member of the California Health and Human Services Behavioral Health Task Force.
Karen is the mother of three children and a rescue dog. She has a long-term partner, is a member of the LGBTQ community, and is a long-time resident of Sacramento. Her self-care strategies include daily walks, a gallon of water a day, and gardening.
Carmen was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. She immigrated to the US when she was nineteen and made California her home ever since. She has seen and experienced how access to basic human needs or even one’s cultural background, impedes the important role mental health has to a person’s quality of life.
Having been an administrative professional for over 20 years, Carmen’s experience has given her the opportunity to work across different sectors and industries. Her past roles included managing a small nonprofit counseling agency, to helping establish office operations for a Silicon Valley tech start up. Carmen has served as a top-level executive assistant to CEOs, hedge fund managers, and business owners. Her transition back to the mental health landscape, is a deep-seated passion to make a positive impact on the lives of those who are most vulnerable in our communities.
Carmen holds a BS degree in Business Administration. She lives in Sacramento County with her husband, Sonny; and has two kids out of college.
Jason is an award-winning storyteller who brings a passion for connecting with audiences in new ways. He has had many roles in journalism – television reporter, producer, instructor and digital communication leader.
His work has made him familiar with the importance of mental health policy in California. In 2011 he produced Critical Condition: California’s Emergency Rooms for KVIE Public Television. The documentary highlighted the impact of mental health funding cuts on health care providers. He also was a producer for the documentary A New State of Mind: Ending the Stigma of Mental Illness.
For ten years Jason traveled the world capturing stories about American agriculture for the program America’s Heartland and was honored to get an exclusive tour of the White House Kitchen Garden from First Lady Michelle Obama in 2010. He has won three regional EMMY Awards for his work as a producer and executive producer. An Iowa native, he graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and minor in political science.
Jason serves on the board of directors for My Sister’s House, an organization serving Asian and Pacific Islander and other underserved women and children impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. He lives with his wife and two children in the Sacramento area.
Tara is a San Francisco native coming to Sacramento by way of Boston. Coming up in local politics Tara always planned on returning to her hometown after finishing up her master’s degree. But after a well-timed internship and class on lobbying in graduate school, she began to look north towards Sacramento. Before coming to the Steinberg Institute, Tara worked in the California legislature on issues related to economic justice, housing, homelessness, and human services — all with deep connections to mental health.
Passionate about mental health, she centers the issue in her work while bringing an intersectional lens rooted in her previous experience.
Tara holds a BA in political science from UC Berkeley and an MPP from Harvard University.
Corey is an experienced public policy researcher who explains complex issues in simple, easy-to-understand ways. He enjoys analyzing policy challenges and using his insights to strengthen advocacy work, and he has authored numerous reports on mental health and substance use disorders in California.
Maggie Merritt has worked in the public policy arena since 1989. She worked alongside Darrell Steinberg to launch the institute and served as the organization’s inaugural executive director from 2015-2022. Prior to this she worked for years as a leader and advocate for nonprofit organizations focused on women’s and children’s health, violence prevention, and social justice issues. From 2005-2010, she served as executive director of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, District IX (CA), working to advance public policies to benefit the health and well-being of women and their children.
In 2004, Maggie worked alongside then-Assemblymember Darrell Steinberg on the successful Yes on Proposition 63 campaign that enacted the Mental Health Services Act, a 1 percent tax on personal income over $1 million to bolster funding for public mental health services across California which currently brings in over $3.8 billion annually.
From 1989 to 2001, Maggie served as a legislative staffer in the California Senate and Assembly, focusing primarily on education and health policy. She holds a degree in sociology, law & society from the University of California, Davis, and is an ICF Professional Certified Coach. She has two sons, four adorable grandsons, and one precious granddaughter. Her self-care activities include yoga, outdoor adventure, a good clean diet, and photography.