BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Karen Fessel, Dr PH Founder and Executive DirectorKaren founded the Autism Health Insurance Project after struggling to secure services for her son, who has Asperger’s. She started AHIP to help children on the autism spectrum obtain medically necessary services by supporting families in their journey through the insurance maze. Later AHIP became MHAIP, and the journey expanded to include those with other mental health conditions. In addition to serving as the executive director of MHAIP, Karen co-moderates the ASDinsurancehelp and ASDMedi-Cal Yahoo users groups. Karen holds a doctorate in public health from UC Berkeley. Her prior work experience includes developing technology assessments and treatment guidelines for the Permanente Medical Group, and conducting research projects at the Department of Public Health and UCSF. On the public policy front, Karen co-chaired the autism subcommittee on insurance with the East Bay Autism Regional Task Force, and served as a parent advocate on the initial Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) Autism Advisory Workgroup. She is the proud parent of an 22-year-old son with Asperger's and an 18-year-old daughter.
Laura Levandowski SecretaryLaura has been an advocate and champion of children with autism and learning differences for 12 years. Laura co-developed Special Parents for Special Kids (SPSK), a parent education, support and advocacy group for children with special needs and learning differences. She is the former President of the Special Education Enrichment and Development Foundation (SEED). Laura holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in clinical psychology. While she is now a stay at-home mother, Laura previously worked in the field of telecommunications sales and training. Laura is the mother of a 14-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter.
Lisa Valerio, TreasurerLisa is a mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend – all which gives her drive, inspiration and passion in life. She loves to travel and spend quality time with family and friends in her down time. Her career of over 20+ years has been in the field of marketing, advertising and operations. She currently is a consultant in the areas of marketing operations, change management and systems implementation. She has in the past worked as an Insurance Advocate with Autism Health Insurance Project and now is a board member. Lisa is an active volunteer at Community Gatepath, where she runs their Autism Support Group and Technology Workshops and Wings Learning Center, where she sits on their Fundraising Committee and Strategic Council. To connect with Lisa you can reach her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter on @lisaDValerio.
Betsy Brazy, DirectorBetsy is an attorney practicing special education law in the San Francisco Bay Area. She holds a J.D. and Public Interest Law certificate from Golden Gate University School of Law. Betsy has clerked at Disability Rights California and Bay Area Legal Aid. She and her husband have a teenager with autism.
Feda AlmilitiFeda is one of the leading experts on health insurance issues related to Autism in the state of California. She was instrumental in the passage of SB 946, a bill that will help thousands of families secure much needed and deserved services for their children. She successfully took on the largest health care provider in California, securing for her son over 30 hours of therapy per week. Having a child with ASD and successfully obtaining treatment for him gives her first-hand experience to the challenges faced by other parents in regards to the complexities of obtaining services through insurance. Feda was invited by Pro Tem of the California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg to speak at the inauguration of the Senate Select Committee on Autism. Currently she is the Insurance Sub-group Co-chair on BAART (Bay Area Autism Regional Task-force) and is also the founder of the Fremont SEPTA (special education PTA), the only one of its kind in Alameda County. She has testified on numerous commissions and boards, related to autism in California and is the founder of the Kaiser Spectrum Kids, as well as other users groups to assist parents with insurance issues. She and her son have also been featured in numerous news stories, most notably ABC and CBS news. And, in January, 2012 was named as a member to Advisory Commission on Special Education of the California Senate. Feda is the proud mother of three beautiful boys. Feda is dedicated to helping other parents because, "It is the parents who have helped and supported me in my journey through autism."
LaJoyce PorterLaJoyce L. Porter is a sole practitioner in Oakland, CA. Her practice areas consists all aspects of education law, including but not limited to special education suspension, expulsions, 504 and ADA issues, bullying and private school and college litigation. She has been in private practice for 9 years. Ms. Porter has two daughters who have special needs which is what prompted her transition into education law. Prior to that, Ms. Porter worked at several Bay Area law firms where she practiced workers' compensation defense, insurance defense and civil litigation. She represented insurers, third party administrators and self-insured employers throughout the Bay Area. Many of her clients were Fortune 500 corporations. Ms. Porter graduated from University of San Francisco with a B.A. in Communications. She obtained her Juris Doctorate from Howard University School of Law in Washington, DC. She is a member of the Black Women Lawyers of Northern California and the Charles Houston Bar Association. She travels throughout the Bay Area speaking on Education issues.
Karen Fessel, Dr PH, Founder and Executive DirectorKaren founded the Autism Health Insurance Project after struggling to secure services for her son, who has Asperger’s. She started AHIP to help children on the autism spectrum obtain medically necessary services by supporting families in their journey through the insurance maze. Later AHIP became MHAIP, and the journey expanded to include those with other mental health conditions. In addition to serving as the executive director of MHAIP, Karen co-moderates the ASDinsurancehelp and ASDMedi-Cal Yahoo users groups. Karen holds a doctorate in public health from UC Berkeley. Her prior work experience includes developing technology assessments and treatment guidelines for the Permanente Medical Group, and conducting research projects at the Department of Public Health and UCSF. On the public policy front, Karen co-chaired the autism subcommittee on insurance with the East Bay Autism Regional Task Force, and served as a parent advocate on the initial Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) Autism Advisory Workgroup. She is the proud parent of an 22-year-old son with Asperger's and an 18-year-old daughter.
Patricia Freeman Gish, J.D., M.P.H, M.S.W., Appeals SpecialistPatricia specializes in helping families obtain insurance coverage for medically necessary mental health and autism care. Patricia has a decade of advocacy experience, having worked as a Senior Health Policy Associate with Children Now, as well as a conservatorship and litigation attorney. She is raising two sons, one of whom is on the autism spectrum, with her husband in the East Bay. Patricia holds a law degree from the University of Southern California and a dual Masters degree in Public Health and Social Welfare from the University of California at Berkeley.
Debra Nelson , Appeals SpecialistDebra Nelson has a background in policy analysis, philanthropic advising, fundraising, and advocacy for mental health and autism issues. Debra thrives in bringing people together, understanding clients’ needs, advocating for what is right and fair, and achieving a creative and satisfying outcome for all involved. Debra's professional background includes grantmaking, relationship management and social impact investing for the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Jewish Community Federation and the Nonprofit Finance Fund, where she had the privilege of providing grants to hundreds of nonprofit organizations. As a volunteer, Debra has raised funds for capital campaigns, annual operations, and special projects for a variety of community organizations. Holding a B.A. from Middlebury College in Political Science and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from the U.C. Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy, Debra is a skilled analyst, writer, and communicator. For the past 15 years, Debra has served on the boards of directors of Slide Ranch, the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and the Brandeis School. A lover of contemporary ballet and a seeker of fun, interesting and new experiences and a San Francisco Bay Area native, Debra lives with her husband and two sons.
Hilary CoxHilary assists families in appealing denied claims for medically necessary mental health treatment. Hilary's background is in healthcare privacy compliance working for a wide variety of organizations such as a county health and hospital system, the federal government, a health insurer, and a law firm. She lives in the Bay Area with her husband, daughter, and dog-son. Hilary obtained her law degree from Stanford University and her Bachelors from UC Davis.
Heather Morris, Advocate
I began work with MHAIP in February 2018 as an Advocate for families with children and young adults on the Autism spectrum. I advocate for medically necessary treatment (ABA, intensive outpatient), argue against insurance providers that deny, delay or reduce services, and support families through the process. I have thoroughly enjoyed being involved with families and providers on each of my cases. It is a special thrill each time we’re able to succeed at securing treatment for clients! I also manage the newsletter and website for MHAIP.
Prior to my current role, I worked in the publishing industry as both an editor and writer. I have authored/co-authored several consumer “how-to” books about technology. As my older son is autistic, I also spent a good deal of the last decade advocating for his medical treatment and an appropriate educational placement. I bring those personal, advocacy experiences to the work I do for MHAIP.
I live in Gilroy my husband and enjoy spending time with my boys, aged 12 and 14, including hiking the many beautiful trails near us or taking the short drive to the coast. In my free time I like to garden, read and look after our many furry and feathery family members. I also enjoy volunteering at Gilroy Compassion Center - a day center for our local homeless population.
Sarah JonesI started working young at the age of 15 in many different field ranging from Food Service, Customer Service, Administrative & Bookkeeping. It was just over two years ago shortly before I found out I was pregnant with my son Mason I wanted to get in the field of Medical Coding & Billing. As I continued my job as an administrator for New Leaf Community Markets during my pregnancy, I left for maternity leave and after a long leave I decided to put in my resignation to peruse being a full time mom & start my career. Shortly after my resignation, I enrolled in school to receive a Certified Medical Coding & Billing Certification. Days after enrolling I sent in my resume for a part time job in the field and was hired. I was beyond grateful & blessed with the amazing opportunity. The path I've chosen allows me to raise my son, participate in my online schooling & provide for my family.
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