Crisis Now Academy

Most communities defer to law enforcement and hospitals for most people in a psychiatric emergency. The Crisis Now Academy think tank supports the creation of next-level solutions to a multitude of mental health, substance use, IDD and/or suicidal crises systems challenges. Our national thought leaders create videos, tools and products, many of which we’ve shared open source in the public domain ( and we host 988 and Crisis Learning Community video calls.

Our team from RI International and Behavioral Health Link stand ready with more intensive support, consultation and training offerings. These can be as limited as a few hours of phone consultation to support the creation of options around a particular issue to a full scale system redesign that can support any community. We’ve worked at the Federal, State, County and City levels in the US and abroad. 988 has offered a once in a lifetime chance to transform behavioral health crisis care and change is within our reach.

“Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets."


-Institute for Healthcare Improvement

Consultants and Faculty

Architects of Crisis Now, SAMHSA’S National Guidelines and Zero Suicide
David Covington, LPC, MBA

David Covington, LPC, MBA

CEO & President
RI International

BH Innovator, Entrepreneur & Storyteller. Partner in Georgia’s BHL. Architect MASoSfilm CrisisNow HopeInc & ZeroSuicide

Joy Brunson-Nsubuga

Joy Brunson-Nsubuga, MA, LMFT, LCAS, CCS

VP Southeast
RI International

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Expert in Systems Thinking, BH Crisis Systems, and SU/MAT

Sue Ann O'Brien

Sue Ann O’Brien, LPC, MBA

President Strategic Development
Behavioral Health Link

Experienced BH Leader and Provider of the Nation's Broadest Application of Advanced Crisis Call Center Technology, Care Traffic Control

Tracy Plouck

Tracy Plouck, MPA

RI International

Former Ohio Medicaid Director; Former Ohio Mental Health & Addiction Services Director. Expertise in health care policy and public budgeting.

Erica Chestnut-Ramirez, MC, LISAC

Erica Chestnut-Ramirez, MC, LISAC

Regional VP, La Frontera Arizona - Empact SPC

Substance Abuse Counselor, Trainer for the Effective Use of Mobile Crisis Teams, Crisis Training and Suicide Prevention, Mental Health First Aid Instructor

Michael Hogan, PhD

Michael Hogan, PhD

Principal & Consultant
Hogan Health Solutions

A Principal Founder of the Zero Suicide in Healthcare Movement. Co-lead for the 2011 Clinical Care & Intervention Task Force that Published the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention Roadmap

Rochelle Head-Dunham

Rochelle Head-Dunham, MD, DFAPA, FASAM

Director on RI International's Board

Executive Director and Medical Director for Metropolitan Human Services District (MHSD)

Thomas Betlach

Thomas Betlach

Partner Speire Healthcare Strategies

Former Arizona Medicaid Director, Nationally Recognized Thought Leader on Medicaid and Healthcare Policy, Delivery System Transformation, Value-Based Purchasing, Managed Care, and Cost Containment

Lived Experience Leaders
Published Authors
Former State MH/SU Commissioners
Former State Medicaid Directors
States Represented

Senior Consulting Team

Jamie Sellar

Jamie Sellar, MA, LPC

Chief Strategy Officer
RI International

Senior BH Executive, Writer of SAMHSA's National Guidelines for Behavioral Health Crisis Care, Consultant for Crisis System Development and Operational Management

Victor Armstrong

Victor Armstrong, MSW

Chief Diversity Officer RI International

Former North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Chief Health Equity Officer, Former RI International Board Member

Wayne Lindstrom, PhD

Wayne Lindstrom, PhD

VP of Consulting and Business Development
RI International

Former Director of the BH Services Division and CEO of the BH Collaborative for New Mexico, Expert on Organizational Development and BH Crisis Systems

Carlos Mackall

Carlos Mackall, MS, LMSW, CAADC

VP of Strategy
RI International

Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Mental Health Screener and Human Services Practitioner

Courtney Mullins

Courtney Mullins MBA, MA, LPC, LCMHC

Senior Principal Consultant
RI International

Licensed Counselor, Consultant for Crisis System Development and Operations Improvement

Grace Dolfi

Grace Wolf, MS, CRC, LCMH

Senior Principal Consultant
RI International

Licensed Mental Health Clinician, Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Experience in operation management and program implementation.

Georgea Madeira

Georgea Madeira, LMFT, MBA

California State Director
RI International

Experienced MH/SU Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Organizational and Leadership Consultant. State Leader of Leading BH Crisis Care Provider.

Kristen Ellis

Kristen Ellis, LMFT

Senior Principal Consultant
RI International

Editor and Storyteller. Experienced MH/SU Licensed Therapist. BH Leader. Consultant for Crisis System Development and Optimization. Advocate for Lived Experience and
Peer Support.

Aaron Foster

Aaron Foster, MA, LAC, CRC, CRSS

Director of Consulting and Education
RI International

Experienced in Training and Implementation of Peer Services, Author in Psych Rehab Best Practices, Education Director, Rehabilitation Counselor

Lisa St. George

Lisa St. George, MSW, CPRP

VP Peer Support & Empowerment
RI International

Author of RI's Peer Employment Training and Numerous Other Training Tools, 40 Years of Expertise in the Peer Support and the Human Services Industry

Denise Voss

Denise Voss

Writer and
Content Creator
RI International

Accomplished Writer, Development Professional, and Non-Profit Expert. Highly skilled in Marketing, Communications, Community Engagement, and Corporate Relations.

Terrence Smithers

Terrence Smithers, BA, CPRP, CRPS

Manager of Training Development
RI International

35 years of Behavioral Health Experience: Leader, Clinician, Author,
Trainer, and Peer

Tom Castellanos

Thomas Castellanos, CPA

Executive VP Treasury Facilities Development
RI International

Helped shift reimbursement based on community impact leading to broadening of payer sources. Opened and renovated facilities and more.

Additional Faculty

Gregg Graham, MA, MBA

Gregg Graham, MA, MBA

Founding Partner
Behavioral Health Link

Experienced in Developing, Managing and Providing Behavioral Health Crisis Services Systems

Ebony Chambers

Ebony Chambers

Chief Family and Youth Partnership Officer
Stanford Sierra Youth and Families

National Leader in Peer Support Integration and Implementation and Family Centered Practices. Leads Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives, Program and Leadership Development.

Paul Galdys

Paul Galdys, MBA, CPRP

Deputy CEO
RI International

Experienced MH and SU Service Leader, Former Assistant Director with Arizona Medicaid, Lead Writer of the National Guidelines for Behavioral Health Crisis Care

Ruchi Sukhija

Ruchi Sukhija, MS, MBA

Chief Operating Officer
RI International

Leader of Business Intelligence and Data Analytics Systems, Implementer of Innovative Solutions for Telehealth and Electronic Medical Records

Kevin Huckshorn

Kevin Huckshorn, PhD, MSN, RN, CADC

EVP NE Region/
Development Consulting
RI International

Licensed and certified mental health nurse and substance abuse clinician with 40 years of experience.

Lysha Best, MA, MBA

Lysha Best, MA, MBA

Louisiana State Director
RI International

Experienced SU/MH Licensed Clinician, State Leader of Leading BH Crisis Care Provider, Expertise in Strategic and Operations Management

Margie Balfour, MD, PhD

Margie Balfour, MD, PhD

Chief of Quality & Clinical Innovation, Connections Health Solutions

National Leader in Quality Improvement, BH Crisis Care, and Law Enforcement Responses to Mental Illness

Amy Pugsley

Amy Pugsley, MA, CHC

Executive VP
RI International

Expert in Quality & Compliance Processes and Procedures, Senior Leader of a Leading BH Crisis Care Provider, Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Certified in Six Sigma

Kim Myers

Kim Myers, MSW

Assistant Director
Utah Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health

Experience in policy development, planning, and implementation of the continuum of crisis services among health and behavioral health systems.

Tonja Myles

Tonja Myles, CPSS

Community Liaison
RI International

Community activist, peer counselor, veteran, subject matter expert in addiction, mental health and untreated trauma. Sought after counsel for community-based policy and system changes in communities of color.

Michael Claeys

Michael Claeys, LPC, MBA

Behavioral Health Link

Developer of One of Georgia’s First Crisis Centers, Expertise in Quality Review, Extensive Provider Training, Provider Profiling, and Integration of Individualized Recovery Services

Pierluigi Mancini

Pierluigi Mancini, PhD

Director on RI International's Board

Author, Behavioral Health Expert, Cultural Competence Consultant, Immigrant Behavioral Health, Health Disparities and Media Expert, Program Developer, Public Speaker

DeQuincy Lezine

DeQuincy Meiffren-Lézine, PhD

Secretary on RI International's Board

CEO of Prevention Communities, Lifetime Achievement Award Winner of SAMSHA Voice Award, Internationally Recognized Speaker, Published Author.

Shannon Jaccard

Shannon Jaccard, MBA

Chair of RI International's Board

Behavioral Health Consultant and Adjunct Professor at Alliant University, Member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network, and Former CEO of NAMI San Diego

Shelby Rowe

Shelby Rowe, MBA

Director on RI International's Board

Program Manager for the Suicide Prevention Resource Center at the OU Health Science Center

Joe Williams

Joe Williams

Director on RI International's Board

Wagga Wagga Citizen of the Year, SPA’s LiFE Award, published author and public speaker

Chuck Browning

Chuck Browning, MD

Chief Medical Officer
RI International

International Speaker, BH Focus on the Fusion of Medical and Peer Support Systems, Medical Director of Call Centers, Mobile Support and Crisis Facilities

Ronald Forbes

Ronald Forbes, MD

Director on RI International's Board

Former Medical Director of Central State Hospital (VA), Psychiatric Consultant

Marleigh O'Meara

Marleigh O’Meara, MC, LPC, NCC

VP Southwest
RI International

Experience in the Oversight of Opiate Treatment Programs, Permanent Supportive Housing, Integrated Outpatient Care, Peer Respite and facility-Based Crisis Services

Michael Riddle

Riddle, MD

Associate CMO
RI International

Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at University of Arizona, Lifelong Educator, Experienced BH Leader, Medical Director of Crisis Facilities, and Experienced Crisis Provider.

Stephanie Hepburn, JD

Stephanie Hepburn, JD

Chief Content Officer
RI International

Editor in chief of #CrisisTalk ( Award-winning author and journalist.

Ken Thompson

Kenneth Thompson, MD

Director on RI International's Board

Principal Psychiatrist, Visible Hands Consulting and Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry at University of Pittsburgh

Karen Jones

Karen Jones, MBA

Chief of Staff
RI International

Executive Professional Administrator, BH Advocate, Expertise in Planning, Project Management, Event Management, Communication, and Administrative Functions

Media Coverage

'Arizona model' for behavioral health crisis care gains attention from other states
'Arizona model' for behavioral health crisis care gains attention from other states

(Christine Vestal, Stateline, February 21, 2020, published in AZCentral) Police officers deliver patients who are having a psychiatric crisis directly to the Crisis Recovery Center in Peoria, Arizona. Nationwide, other states are emulating the crisis response model developed in Arizona.

New Suicide Prevention Number Could Lead to Surge in Calls
New Suicide Prevention Number Could Lead to Surge in Calls

(Christine Vestal, Stateline, December 20, 2019) Brian Anderson, a peer support administrator at the Georgia Crisis and Access Line, in downtown Atlanta. The U.S. suicide rate increased by a third from 1999 to 2017. The Pew Charitable Trusts

3-Digit Hotline Aims To Assist In Suicide Prevention
3-Digit Hotline Aims To Assist In Suicide Prevention

(NPR, Rhitu Chatterjee, September 13, 2019) So would a three-digit number help those in crisis more than a 10-digit one? It's a question on the mind of the federal agency that wants to start a new three-digit hotline for people feeling suicidal or going through any other mental health crisis.

When someone is thinking of suicide, these are the people who talk them out of it
When someone is thinking of suicide, these are the people who talk them out of it

(CNN, Doug Criss, September 10, 2018) Nestled in a downtown Atlanta high-rise, the call center for the Georgia Crisis & Access Line hosts the staff of Behavioral Health Link, a crisis services company, contracted by the state of Georgia. When a person calls 1-800-715-4225 from anywhere in the state, the folks here answer -- 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Congressional Engagement

Sue Ann Atkerson, CEO of Behavioral Health Link, Testifies Before Congress on 988
Sue Ann Atkerson, CEO of Behavioral Health Link, Testifies Before Congress on 988

(Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Committee on Energy and Commerce, February 27, 2020)

David Covington, CEO & President RI International, Testifies at Briefing with US Representatives Chris Stewart and Seth Moulton
David Covington, CEO & President RI International, Testifies at Briefing with US Representatives Chris Stewart and Seth Moulton,

“988: How a 3-Digit Suicide Prevention Hotline Can Transform Access to Mental Health Care” (Capitol Visitors Center Congressional Meeting Room South, October 30, 2019)

David Covington, CEO & President RI International, Testifies at Transforming Crisis Mental Health Care Briefing
David Covington, CEO & President RI International, Testifies at Transforming Crisis Mental Health Care Briefing,

a bipartisan event co-hosted by Reps. Grace Napolitano and John Katko in coordination with the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (May 26, 2017)

Video Production

Successes in Arizona (Crisis Now model inspired by RI International and other Phoenix organizations)
Tour of the Fusion Model (RI Facilities in Phoenix, Washington State, Delaware and California and Atrium in North Carolina)

Strategic Partner BHL Technology (Care Traffic Control software of Behavioral Health Link)

Is Suicide Really a Choice? (TED-Style Talk at American Association of Suicidology 2016)


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