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Speaker Biographies

Esteemed Guest Speakers:

Key Note Speaker: Speaker of the House, Emanuel “Chris” Welch

Join us to hear from Speaker Welch on the future of mental health policy in Illinois.
Emanuel “Chris” Welch has been a State Representative from the 7th District of Illinois since 2013. He was elected Speaker of the House in January 2021 after serving on several key committees, including chairman of the Executive Committee; and a member of Revenue, Cities and Villages, Counties and Townships, and Higher Education. As chairman of the House Higher Education Committee, he led efforts to pass historic legislation like the four year map grant award and the AIM High Scholarship. He also served as co-chair of Governor J.B. Pritzker’s Educational Success Transition committee.
As state representative, Welch has focused on improving classroom education, creating jobs, helping the most vulnerable, and streamlining government. Welch has been the Chief Sponsor of several pieces of historic legislation including the law bringing cursive writing back to our schools, the Historic Illinois Trust Act, the Law making Illinois a Welcoming State for immigrants, and the Homeless Bill of Rights. Representative Welch is also a leading voice for adding black and brown people to the boards of publicly held corporations after sponsoring landmark legislation that requires Illinois corporations to annually disclose their board composition.
Welch has been recognized with several significant awards for his legislative record including the prestigious Zeke Giorgi Award from the AFL-CIO and the Friend and Education Award from the Illinois Education Association.
Prior to joining the General Assembly, Welch served 12 years on the Proviso Township High School Board of Education. His last ten years he served as the Board chair. Welch lead the Proviso School Board in the creation of the Proviso Math and Science Academy, a school that today is recognized by Chicago Magazine and US News and World Reports. He did this all while balancing the schools budget for the first time since the early 90s.
Welch is a partner in the local government law firm Ancel Glink. Prior to that, he served as a partner at Sanchez, Daniels and Hoffman, LLP from 2007 to 2018 where he represented local school districts and municipalities. For his work in school, education and civil rights law, Welch has been recognized as a Super Lawyer and one of Chicago’s Leading Lawyers.
Welch is a graduate of Proviso West High School (‘89), Northwestern University (‘93), and The John Marshall Law School (‘97). He is a 2016 inductee into the JMLS Wall of Fame. Welch is married to ShawnTe and has two children, Tyler and Marley. He believes that “He will always find a way, or make one.”

John Torous, MD MBI is director of the digital psychiatry division, in the Department of Psychiatry at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, a Harvard Medical School affiliated teaching hospital, where he also serves as a staff psychiatrist and assistant professor. He has a background in electrical engineering and computer sciences and received an undergraduate degree in the field from UC Berkeley before attending medical school at UC San Diego. He completed his psychiatry residency, fellowship in clinical informatics, and master's degree in biomedical informatics at Harvard. Dr. Torous is active in investigating the potential of mobile mental health technologies for psychiatry and has published over 200 peer reviewed articles and 5 books chapters on the topic. He serves as editor-in-chief for JMIR Mental Health (http://mental.jmir.org/),  web editor for JAMA Psychiatry, currently leads the American Psychiatric Association’s Health IT Committee, and is a senior member in IEEE.

Thomas Wright, MD oversees all medical operations for Rosecrance. He specializes in working with adolescents who have a co-existing or secondary diagnosis in addition to an addiction disorder. He has more than 20 years’ experience in the field and is certified as a child and adolescent psychiatrist by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Dr. Wright is also certified in addiction medicine by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. He served on the faculty at Northwestern Medical College in Chicago and at The University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago and Rockford. Dr. Wright is a regular conference presenter and has been recognized as a medical educator and leader in the field of child and adolescent psychiatry. Dr. Wright received the Clinician of the Year award for clinical excellence from Addiction Professional in 2015. He joined Rosecrance in 2005.

Kelly Epperson, JD is Vice President and General Counsel at Rosecrance. Rosecrance is a national leader in addiction and behavioral health treatment with locations in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin. As General Counsel for Rosecrance, Kelly provides comprehensive legal services to Rosecrance and its affiliates, including directing corporate activities to protect Rosecrance’s legal interests; assisting with mergers and acquisitions; analyzing novel legal issues that uniquely impact behavioral healthcare providers; researching and influencing legislative changes at the state and federal levels; and positioning Rosecrance to be a legally sound not-for-profit so it can continue to fulfill its mission.

James MacKenzie, DO is a fellowship trained Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist practicing in the Chicagoland area for the past 16 years.  He completed a general psychiatry residency at Loyola University Medical Center followed by a child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine (Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago). He has served most of his career as the Medical Director of the Pediatric Psychiatry Consultation and Emergency Services at Lurie Children’s Hospital and more recently as the Director of Pediatric Collaborative Care at Rush and now Director for the Center for Collaborative Behavioral Health Care at Advocate Children’s Hospital.   After serving as President of the Illinois Psychiatric Society, he proudly helped pass State legislation making Illinois the first state in the US to require both private and public insurance to reimburse Primary Care Physicians for collaborating with psychiatrists and child psychiatrists--a major step forward to improve access of care for mental health service.   His proudest achievement has been starting the new Statewide psychiatry medical student committee with members from each medical school in Illinois. 

Kari M. Wolf, MD joined SIU School of Medicine in 2016 to serve as Chair of Psychiatry. Since coming to SIU, she has served as a content expert for numerous pieces of legislation, created innovative psychiatric services to expand access in the region, served for 3 years as the Psychiatric Director for Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Service’s Behavioral Health Division, and participated in numerous national and regional talks on medical education, leadership, mental health policy, telehealth, and behavioral health workforce development.  She currently serves as the PI on three grants related to workforce development grants and is actively working with multiple partner organizations to enhance the behavioral health system of care in the region.  Dr. Wolf came to SIU from Austin, Texas, where she built the psychiatry department to support the new University of Texas Austin Dell Medical School.  Wolf served as Chair for the Austin Psychiatry Department from 2004-2015. She also served as CEO of Seton Mind Institute, Chief Medical Officer for Seton Shoal Creek Hospital, and as Associate Professor of Medicine at UT Austin and UT Southwestern.  Dr. Wolf completed a psychiatry residency at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics after earning her medical degree at the University of Iowa. Board Certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, she holds leadership roles in numerous professional organizations and has significant expertise in curriculum development, mentoring, quality improvement processes, clinical service redesign, health policy development, change management and strategic planning. 

Cynthia Thomas, MD, is an Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine at SIU school of Medicine in Springfield Illinois in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. She graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology form University of Illinois, Urbana -Champaign in 1987 and completed medical school at SIU School of Medicine in 1991. She completed residency in Family Medicine in 1994, also at SIU, and upon graduation fulfilled an IDPH service obligation at a community health center in Decatur, Illinois. Since joining the faculty at SIU in 1997, she completed a faculty development fellowship with an emphasis on meeting the health needs of the underserved and has been the recipient of a number of community service and teaching awards. In addition to teaching students and residents, she cares for patients at The Center for Family Medicine in Springfield and the Integrated Wellness Clinic, which is housed at a local behavioral health center. In both practice settings, she interacts regularly with behavioral health professionals in different capacities and has experienced first hand the more wholistic medical care that is possible with collaboration.

Jun Ma, MD is the Beth and George Vitoux Distinguished Professor of Medicine and director of the Vitoux Program on Aging and Prevention in the Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois Chicago. She is also associate head of research and a member of the Department’s Scholarly Activities Council. Dr. Ma is a dually trained MD and PhD scientist with expertise in preventive medicine and translational behavioral medicine research. Since 2008, Dr. Ma has secured >35 million dollars of NIH and other federal research funding as Principal Investigator, leading numerous efficacy and mechanistic clinical trials of innovative behavioral lifestyle interventions in patients with multiple chronic conditions in primary care settings. In recognition of her research excellence in behavioral medicine, Dr. Ma was elected in 2017 to the Academy of Behavioral Medicine Research, the premier honorary scientific organization for scientists working at the interface of behavior and medicine. Dr. Ma has held numerous national leadership positions, including being current chair of the Publications Council for the Society of Behavioral Medicine, an associate editor of the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, a past Chair of the American Heart Association Behavior Change Science Committee, and a member of the steering committee for the NIH Office of the Director’s Science of Behavior Change Research Network.

Aida  Spahic Mihajlovic, MD MS is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at UIC. She is a faculty supervisor and mentor for residents and medical students. She is a member of American Psychiatric Association Disaster Psychiatry Committee, GAP committee on political violence and terrorism, and fellow of American College of Psychiatrists. She is also a board member of AASP, council member of Illinois Psychiatric Society (IPS), and chair of the women's committee for IPS. She has published research in areas of refugee mental health focusing on suicide in youth and adults. She has particular expertise in digital mental health and the reconstitution of social networks after migration.








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