The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has named psychologist and mental health advocate Sheila A. Schuster of Louisville as the latest Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion for her more than four decades of leadership in advocating for those with mental illness and other disabilities, and for her efforts to increase access to health care across Kentucky.
“Her vast network of connections in the health care sector, as well as in the health policy arena, make her insights invaluable to professional and advocacy organizations,” said Kathryn Mershon, who nominated Schuster for the award.
One of Schuster’s most recent successes was “Tim’s Law,” which allows Kentucky judges to order outpatient treatment for persons with several mental illness. The law, passed in 2017, is intended to help break the cycles of homelessness, incarceration and involuntary hospitalization.
Other successes include leading policy efforts that provide insurance parity for mental illness and addiction, treatment for autism, increases in mental health professionals in schools, and elimination of barriers to health care access, particularly for persons with disabilities or those living on very low incomes.
Schuster currently leads the Advocacy Action Network, an umbrella organization that includes groups addressing health care, mental health, social justice and disability issues. She also chairs Kentucky Voices for Health, a coalition to improve Kentucky’s health, and leads the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition, which comprises more than 80 organizations. She chairs the Behavioral Health Technical Advisory Committee to Kentucky’s Medicaid program.She has held numerous leadership positions, including president and executive director, with the Kentucky Psychological Association. She is also a former member of the health foundation’s board of directors and is currently a member of its Community Advisory Council.
Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation, added that when he was Kentucky’s attorney general, Schuster was among a small group of individuals who worked on a lawsuit that ended in the settlement which, in turn, created the endowment that funds the foundation. “Sheila was absolutely integral to the creation of the foundation in the late 1990s,” Chandler said in the release.
Mental Health America of Kentucky Executive Director Marcie Timmerman pointed to Schuster’s leadership with the 874K Disability Coalition, which she said has resulted in the creation of the bipartisan Engage and Empower Caucus in the Kentucky House. “It is not an understatement to say Dr. Schuster has been involved in every piece of good mental-health legislation enacted in the past few decades,” Timmerman said.
Schuster and other winners of the award are eligible for the Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion of the Year award, which comes with a $5,000 grant from the Foundation to a Kentucky-based nonprofit of the winner’s choice. The winner will be announced at the foundation’s annual health policy forum Sept. 23 in Lexington.