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Fall Conference Speakers
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Pete Earley

Keynote Speaker
Pete Earley
Author and Mental Health Advocate

A former Washington Post reporter, Pete Earley is the author of 11 nonfiction books, including four New York Times bestsellers, and six novels. He is best known for his nonfiction book, CRAZY: A Father's Search Through America's Mental Health Madness, which was one of two finalists for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize.

CRAZY describes Earley’s struggle to get his adult son help after he develops a severe mental illness and is arrested. As part of his research, Earley spent ten months inside the Miami Dade County jail, where he followed persons with mental disorders through the criminal justice system and out onto the streets to see what happened to them. His book has won awards from the American Psychiatric Association, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America, and prompted CNN to name him one of nation’s top “mental wellness warriors.”  He serves as the lone parent member of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee, which advises Congress about mental health reform.

Earley has testified five times before Congress about the need for mental health reform and has lectured in four foreign countries. He serves on the board of the Corporation for Supportive Housing, which finances projects to eliminate homelessness. The Chief Justice of the Virginia Supreme Court appointed him to a task force that recommended changes to the state's involuntary commitment laws after the Virginia Tech massacre. He currently serves on a panel advising state Senator Creigh Deeds’ legislative efforts to improve Virginia’s mental health services.

He writes regularly for USA TODAY and the Washington Post about mental health issues, and also writes a weekly blog at about mental health issues.  


Brian R. Sims, M.D.  
Senior Medical Advisor
National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors

Brian R. Sims, M.D., is the Senior Medical Advisor for the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors. He is also a Senior Consultant for the NASMHPD Center for Innovations in Behavioral Health Policy and Practices, where he provides lectures and trainings both nationally and internationally on the practice of Trauma–Informed Care and developing strategies for systems to become trauma responsive, as well as teaching on the Neurobiology and biopsychosocial impact of Trauma. He also provides numerous lectures and webinars on SMI and SUD related topics, with strategies for change to improve patient outcomes.  Most recently, he has been a lead consultant for Trauma Informed Care in the Faith- Based communities.  Dr. Sims has served with the State Mental Health system for 25 years before retiring, as well as maintaining a private practice for 10 years. Dr. Sims has also served in the U.S. Army Reserves at Walter Reed with the 2290th Medical division, working with soldiers with PTSD.

Mary Faith Marshall, PhD, FCCM
Acting Director, Emily Davie and Joseph S. Kornfeld Professor of Biomedical Ethics
Director, Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities, University of Virginia Health System

Mary Faith Marshall is Acting Director of the Center for Biomedical Ethics and Humanities and Director of the Program in Biomedical Ethics in the University of Virginia School of Medicine. With her colleagues Lois Shepherd and Julia Taylor, she co-founded its program Studies in Reproductive Ethics and Justice. She is Professor of Public Health Sciences in the School of Medicine, and Professor in the Schools of Nursing and Law (University Faculty).  She co-chairs the UVA Health System Ethics Committee and directs its Ethics Consult Service. Her expertise includes reproductive, clinical and research ethics.

She is past president of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities and the American Association for Bioethics. She is an elected fellow of the American College of Critical Care Medicine where she is vice-chair and forthcoming chair of the SCCM Ethics Committee. In 2017 she received an SCCM Presidential Citation for Outstanding Contributions to the Society of Critical Care Medicine.

Dr. Marshall received the Trailblazer Award from the NAACP Charleston chapter in 1999 for her work in policy approaches to perinatal substance abuse, and has testified on this subject before Congress and in US District Court. She was a member of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Committee on Ethics for eleven years. She is a member of the editorial board of the American Journal of Bioethics.

Dr. Marshall has served on a number of National Institutes of Health Boards, including the NIAID Division of Aids Prevention Africa DSMB and its International DSMB for Africa. She chaired the first NIH review panel on Global Health Research Involving Human Subjects. She also chaired the National Human Research Subjects Protections Advisory Committee at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and has been a special consultant to the DHHS Secretary on research related to children and prisoners. She was an expert advisor on the Committee on Assessing the System for Protecting Human Research at the Institute of Medicine.

Dr. Marshall received her BA, BSN and PhD from the University of Virginia, where she was the Paddock Graduate Fellow in Biomedical Ethics. She was a critical care nurse at UVA for eleven years. Her research interests include moral distress, reproductive ethics, policy approaches to perinatal substance abuse, clinical ethics, human subjects protections and research ethics. Dr. Marshall is former Associate Dean and Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and Co-Director of the Center for Bioethics in the Academic Health Center.

Keynote Speaker
Mira Signer
Currently serving as Acting Commissioner
Chief Deputy Commissioner, Community Behavioral Health
Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services

Ms. Signer combines her leadership experience and belief in the inherent dignity and worth of all people to enact systems transformation in the mental health, substance use, and developmental disabilities fields. She began serving as Chief Deputy Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services in January 2018. Prior to her service at DBHDS, Ms. Signer was the System of Care Director for Magellan of Virginia, the Behavioral Health Services Administrator working with DMAS, public and private providers, and community stakeholders on Medicaid financing and delivery of behavioral health services across the lifespan.

Ms. Signer’s motivation to transform the mental health care system stems from personal experience and lessons learned from supporting friends and loved ones with mental health conditions. She is passionate about creating a behavioral health care system that is comprehensive, user-friendly, and welcoming. From 2007 to 2017 Ms. Signer served as the Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Virginia where she led efforts to reform the mental health care system and transform public perceptions about people with mental illness. Ms. Signer has provided leadership on numerous statewide initiatives including the Joint Subcommittee Studying Mental Health Services in the Commonwealth in the 21st Century, the Governor’s Task Force on Mental Health Services and Crisis Response, and the Governor’s Advisory Committee on Homelessness. For her efforts related to system transformation, in particular working with stakeholders and the General Assembly to allocate nearly $10 million for permanent supportive housing for vulnerable Virginians, Ms. Signer was recognized as a Game Changer in 2017 by the Virginia Housing Alliance and received the Transformational Leadership Award from the Mental Health Association of Virginia. Ms. Signer was honored in 2016 with a peer award from the NAMI Executive Director Leadership Council, the Peer Excellence Award. In 2011, she was selected as a Top 40 Under 40 by Style Weekly. Ms. Signer received her Master’s in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. In 2014, Ms. Signer was recognized as the VCU School of Social Work Outstanding Graduate of the Last Decade for her contributions to the field of social work. One of Mira’s greatest loves is teaching her two young daughters that it is cool to be smart and strong.