Who Will Replace Dr. McCance-Katz At SAMHSA? Could Be A Surprise But Here’s Six Names Being Whispered

Incoming HHS Secretary will pick Dr. McCance-Katz replacement, sources say.

This blog was updated at 12:45 today with the addition of another candidate.

(1-15-21) Who will replace Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz as the next Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use?

Six names are being whispered, but insiders are warning that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the Biden Administration’s nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services, will make the final call after he is confirmed by the U.S. Senate. He isn’t coming from the mental health and substance use community so his choice to head the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration could be a surprise.

Among the names I’m hearing are: Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman. Andrew Keller. Dr. Anita Everett, Arthur C. Evans, Judge Steve Leifman and Paolo del Vecchio.

Dr. Lieberman is a former president of the American Psychiatric Association with a resume that few can match. He specializes in schizophrenia, related psychoses, neuroscience and drugs. The New Yorker was principal investigator for the Clinical Antipsychotic Trials of Intervention Effectiveness (CATIE) study, the largest and longest independent study ever funded by the United States National Institute of Mental Health to examine existing therapies for schizophrenia. While he has support of several influential psychiatrists, he’s been criticized in the past for having close ties to Big Pharma.

Andrew Keller, a psychologist, has been President and CEO of  The Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute (MMHPI) a philanthropic organization in Texas, since 2016.  He has more than 20 years of experience in behavioral health financing and policy. Well-known in Texas, but lesser known in Washington where connections matter.

Dr. Anita Everett is a former president of the American Psychiatric Association and currently is SAMHSA’s Director of the Center for Mental Health Services, making her a SAMHSA insider. Before her arrival at SAMHSA, she held management positions at The Johns Hopkins Bayview Community and General Psychiatry in Baltimore, Maryland.  Her association with Dr. McCance-Katz might be seen by some as a liability if the new secretary wants to install a fresh management team.

Dr. Arthur C. Evans has served as CEO and Vice President of the American Psychological Association since 2017, having spent the previous 12 years as commissioner of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. Dr. Evans would be giving up a million dollar plus salary/benefit package for a much lower government salary, causing some to question why he would make such a move.

Judge Steven Leifman  has a well-deserved national reputation for dramatically reforming mental health/substance use services in Miami-Dade, Florida, turning a backward and barbaric system into a gold standard when it comes to diverting the seriously mentally ill away from jails into treatment. None of the others has the judge’s on-the-ground expertise in dealing with individuals with serious mental illnesses and bringing community stakeholders together. One barrier is that he is not a psychiatrist/psychologist, which some would consider a plus, but not those insisting a psychiatrist/psychologist needs to be at SAMHSA’s helm.

Paolo del Vecchio is the only individual who is a self-identified mental health consumer, trauma survivor, and person in recovery from addictions. Dr. McCance-Katz booted him sideways at SAMHSA, giving him his current post as Director of the Office of Management, Technology, and Operations after he resisted her pro Assisted Outpatient Treatment agenda. A leader for more than 40 years in the consumer/empowerment movement, del Vecchio is being pushed by consumer groups, but those lobbying for him don’t have the political clout behind such organizations as the American Psychiatric Association and American Psychological Association.

One veteran Washington insider told me: “There is an axiom out there with this Biden Transition — if you are hearing someone’s name, it probably means that they are not a serious candidate. Becerra has asked for autonomy in making many of these decisions. I predict that it will end up being someone pushed by an influential Democratic governor.”

The new Secretary of HHS’s priority will be dealing with the pandemic so it is unclear how quickly Dr. McCance-Katz’s replacement will take charge. She was nominated in April but not confirmed by the U.S. Senate until August.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.