Deepa Avula, MPH, currently serves as the Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Behavior Health Link. She is formerly the Director of the NC Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, Substance Abuse Services with responsibility and oversight of the public community-based mental health, intellectual and other developmental disabilities, substance use, and traumatic brain injury system in North Carolina. Deepa joined the NC Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Use Services in May 2021 as Chief Operating Officer/Deputy Director after serving as Chief of Staff and CFO at SAMHSA. During her 20-year federal career, Deepa provided national leadership on policy, data, budget, and operations issues related to all aspects of behavioral health. Most recently, she was responsible for the day-to-day operations of the $10B federal agency comprising 500 staff. Deepa also led the national response related to COVID-19 and behavioral health implications including the establishment of the Provider Relief Fund providing thousands of providers across the country funding to remain sustainable during the pandemic. Deepa was responsible for all aspects of formulation and full execution of SAMHSA’s budget and worked to ensure the agency’s strategic plan was implemented successfully. During her tenure at SAMHSA, she served in varying capacities in the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment including serving as the developer of the agency’s real-time data entry and reporting system used to measure performance and improve quality of behavioral health services nationwide. Deepa holds a Master’s in Public Health from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from George Washington University.
Brett Beckerson is the director of policy and advocacy at the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. He has more than 15 years of experience working at the intersection of public health and public safety policies at local, state and federal levels. At the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, Beckerson leads the state-based efforts on Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics (CCBHCs) to ensure high-quality, integrated services for people with behavioral health needs. Prior to joining the National Council, Beckerson worked at The Pew Charitable Trusts where he provided strategic guidance on Pew’s work on medications for opioid use disorder, suicide prevention and correctional health care. He provided policy recommendations to governors and legislative leaders and lobbied at the federal level for policy changes on topics such as provider workforce, health care financing and population health. An alumnus of The University of Michigan, Beckerson earned a graduate degree in social work with a focus on child welfare policy, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in political science.
Catherine Finley has been helping to shape federal and state health care policy for over 15 years. Drawing on her extensive Capitol Hill and state experience, she brings to Thorn Run Partners a unique ability to identify public policy opportunities, develop effective lobbying strategies and achieve success by utilizing her wide network of bipartisan relationships with key decision-makers. Ms. Finley maintains close ties to the Senate Finance and HELP Committees, as well as the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Ms. Finley previously served as staff director for the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, where she oversaw committee operations on behalf of Senator Gordon H. Smith (R-OR), during his tenure as both chair and ranking member. As staff director, Ms. Finley was the Senator’s lead negotiator on critical health care legislation involving Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. She also led Senator Smith’s health and human services legislative agenda related to the Senate Finance Committee; the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee; and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education. Ms. Finley has also served as senior health policy advisor for Senator Olympia J. Snowe (R-ME), where she advised the Senator on all health and human services issues, including development and enactment of the Medicare Modernization Act. Ms. Finley’s policy expertise in Medicaid and other state health care programs was honed while serving as legislative director for Health and Human Services at the Southern Governors Association, where she represented the Southern states before Congress and the Administration on important regional and national health care matters. Ms. Finley was also a policy advisor to Governor George W. Bush and a Legislative assistant for the Texas Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. Ms. Finley received her B.S. in Business Economics from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She holds minors in Political Science and International Business.
Aaron J. Walker, MPA, Policy Director, NASMHPD, has many years of experience in mental health program administration, including work with local, state, and national mental health policies and practice. As Policy Director with NASMHPD, Mr. Walker leads the development and implementation of the NASMHPD policy agenda and association positions and helps develop national and state-specific policy strategies designed to support state public behavioral health systems. He works with NASMHPD staff to keep NASMHPD members informed on key public policy activities and developments. In addition, Mr. Walker supports policy analysis and product development activities in SAMHSA contracts including the Transformation Transfer Initiative (TTI) Project and the Technical Assistance Coalition. Prior to NASMHPD, Mr. Walker served as Program Coordinator for Indiana FSSA’s Division of Mental Health and Addiction, and in doing so, assisted in the development and implementation of two CMS approved, statewide HCBS mental health programs. Mr. Walker received a Master of Public Affairs degree from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs.
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