Sandra Naylor Goodwin, PhD, MSW

Our dearest friend, Dr. Sandra Naylor Goodwin, PhD, MSW, passed away peacefully in her home, on September 8, 2019. Sandra was a courageous leader, who spoke firmly and advocated tirelessly on behalf of people receiving behavioral health services in California. She believed in recovery and wellness. She believed in addressing cultural and health equity issues in behavioral health. Her concerns for equity, fairness and person-directed care extended to staff, families, and people in services.

Dr. Goodwin received her MSW at West Virginia University and her PhD at the Professional School of Psychology. Sandra was proud of these accomplishments, which were displayed on her office wall along with a rich array of family and work experience pictures.  Her CIBHS office wall also had a painting of a white horse in remembrance a beloved horse she had owned. Sandra was a life-long equestrian, and her family loves horses to this day, including her grandchildren.

We loved Sandra as a dear friend, mentor and confidante. We could more than fill up this space with our reflections of her over the years but would like to share some by friends and colleagues as well as our own. Her friends and colleagues speak below about the “heart and soul” that went with her legacy:

“Sandra Goodwin had a major role in designing an enormous transformation of mental health services in California in the late 20th century, the Realignment, and in redesigning the way federal and state health programs financed behavioral health services. We did some of that as a team. She was the director of the California Institute for Mental Health and I was the director of the California Mental Health Directors Association. Sandra was in charge of identifying what was right; I was in charge of identifying what was possible. Sandra was a magician. She worked with academics, consumers, families and clinicians on how to build services and systems that served individuals and communities with the best we knew how to build. I was a tactician, working with county systems, other providers of services and state administrators and legislators to get the funds, structures and commitments we needed to build those services and systems.

There are a multitude of stories about how that all worked out and a long list of other heroes who helped us find consensus and political will.  On one memorable occasion she asked me if I thought she should do an immediate involuntary treatment hold on a sitting legislator based on his performance in a legislative hearing. (Well, no). On another, we sat together dumbfounded while county decision-makers discussed how to distribute state resources among counties and watched one county offer to support another county’s claim in return for permission to site a hazardous waste dump. (Well, at least the mental health resources were distributed). One legislator asked in a hearing why should we fund mental health treatment when there was no cure. Sandra made the analogy to diabetes, which we treat, and talked about the difference to those with mental illness and their families when treatment makes life manageable. (Well, sometimes knowledge can create a vote).

Sandra was late to every meeting, and always worth the wait. She was beautiful and funny and a wonderful partner for the evening drink after a meeting or a hearing. In between the battles and the challenges, Sandra always returned to the basis of her own strength, family and friends. Her family supported the long hours and national travel that Sandra’s work and her sense of how to do that work demanded. She was committed to her family, proud of them, and a very good friend indeed.”

- Catherine Camp, former Executive Director, CMHDA

“I was profoundly sad to hear about the passing of my long-time close professional colleague and friend, Sandra Naylor Goodwin, PhD.

Sandra was a passionate, forward-thinking behavioral health clinician, policy expert, educator, recovery advocate and activist, with a well-deserved reputation as a true visionary in the behavioral health policy field, not only in California but nationally and internationally.

As the founding CEO of the California Institute for Behavioral Health Solutions (CIBHS) – which was formed in 1993 originally to help counties address their growing training and technical assistance needs  – Sandra led the organization into what it is today: one of the leading agencies that help health professional, agencies, and funders improve the lives of people living with mental health and substance use challenges.

I was fortunate to have worked closely with Sandra for over 20 years, most recently when I served as Executive Director of the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California (CBHDA) until my retirement in 2012.  Our two “sister” organizations shared office space (our executive offices were literally side-by-side), so we were able to coordinate, collaborate and strategize on the most important and historic policy initiatives in the behavioral health field of this generation, including state-county mental health realignment legislation (which Sandra was instrumental in drafting in 1991), implementation of California’s Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63), implementation of the federal Affordable Care Act with regard to serving the needs of Californians with mental health and substance use needs, and criminal justice realignment, among many others.  We spent many hours together personally sharing our strategies, concerns and ideas with one another as we navigated the complexities of the massive policy changes that were taking place during our tenures with our organizations.

I truly feel fortunate to have known and worked so closely with Sandra. California and the nation have lost a true pioneer in the field of behavioral health policy.  My heart goes out to her family and others who knew and/or worked closely with her, including many of her former staff at CIBHS.  She will be missed, but her work and legacy lives on.”

- Patricia Ryan, Former Executive Director, County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California

“I was very nervous about my move to CIMH in 1998. My first day, I had a long commute, dressed in the dark so I wouldn’t wake my wife, and ended up wearing one black & one brown shoe. Horrified, I spent the day moving my feet fast & hiding them under furniture so no one would notice. Got to my last meeting of the day, with Sandra, and nobody – Mandella, neilsen, nobody - noticed the shoe problem.  Walked quickly into Sandra’s office, stuck my feet under the table. Made it. . . . We talked about our plans & the day, and as I leaned forward to stand up to leave, her eyes lit up as she smirked and said “You have on two different colored shoes. . . ”

Sandra was smart, kind, creative, supportive and had a quiet, ever present, sense of humor. My respect and fondness for SNG (how I referenced her in thousands of emails) grew broad and deep during our time working together. She will be remembered by so, so many people who knew her during her incredible lifetime.”

- Bill Carter, LCSW, Sonoma County Behavioral Health Director

“Sandra Goodwin was a very good friend for more than a quarter century. I marveled at her skill and determination when she created the California Institute for Mental Health, known affectionately as “CiMH”, in the early 1990s. I admired her boldness when she undertook a statewide effort to implement outcome measures when we were struggling with this issue at the national level. And I greatly appreciated her contributions to NACBHDD, particularly her role as Chair of our Behavioral Health Committee. The series of webinars she organized is still legendary. But most of all, I enjoyed our long-term friendship, which we would renew every year at ACMHA and CBHDA events. I will miss her.”

- Ron Manderscheid, PhD, Executive Director, NACBHDD and NARMH

“My heart is broken…This [Yesterday’s press release] was a thoughtful tribute, but it did not capture my friend. Sandra showed the strength of her convictions regularly. If you had the chance to sit next to her at these ENDLESS meetings you could experience her passion accompanied by her wicked sense of humor. Sandra’s ability to move the glacial legislative process was amazing. Her genuine concern for the people we served was extraordinary. Her love of family evident in her stories and pictures of loves ones, which she shared often. Sandra was also a glorious dance partner. Catherine Camp, Sandra and us beleaguered MHD’s danced our troubles away numerous evenings…and that my friend is how I will always remember her.”

- Jim Featherstone, Former Mental Health Director

Sandra always kept me on my toes when it came to conferences. She would say don’t worry Theresa, you will make it happen. I would say, “Sandra you are stressing me out. Stress causes lines on my face.” Sandra would say, “Yeah, look at mine!” We then would just laugh. Sandra was just one of a kind, so caring, great listener and would do whatever she could to help you.

- Theresa Ferrini, CIBHS Staff

“Sandra was dear to me as a colleague, a friend and a confidante. She was a courageous visionary who took thoughtful risks on new initiatives that ended up bringing tremendous value to thousands of people. I brought several such initiatives to her for consideration that were not common at the time for CiMH, including what turned into a long-lasting behavioral health IT conference and exhibit hall that generated a strong following. At first, she had to think a bit out of the box to say “yes, let’s do it” and thereafter readily gave her consistent encouragement and support. I think she also got a kick out of the conference, took pride in CiMH/CIBHS’s hosting of it, and enjoyed giving the introductory remarks each year onstage. Others can undoubtedly give similar types of examples regarding their ideas for initiatives that she enabled to thrive. I am so grateful to have had the privilege of knowing and working with her; she enriched my life and the lives of so many others.”

- Tom Trabin, PhD

“During 2004, I had a very bad episode of mental illness – a setback. Sandra sent me home. I was not alone. She called me often over the four-month period. She held hope for me. Sandra told me to come into the office and see her after that time period. She let me work, again. She was like my “second mom.” She walked my recovery journey with me until she saw me enter wellness and hope – then she retired. I was cured. She understood that hope was part of the power of behavioral health. Sandra passed away on my birthday, September 8, 2019. Sandra, you were an angel on Earth. Rest in peace as an angel in Heaven.”

- Alice J. Washington, CIBHS Staff

Sandra was among the kindest, most flexible, intuitive and charismatic leaders I have ever worked for. She went out of her way to nurture me as a professional and a person. I learned a great deal from watching her interactions with statewide leaders, as well as how she engaged with CIBHS staff daily. I considered her both a mentor and a friend, and I will miss her dearly.

- Percy Howard, CIBHS President and CEO

We apologize if we have missed any accomplishments, but Sandra leaves a beautiful legacy behind.

Direct Services Provider Career Highlights:

  • First Job was as Clinician at Chicago Reed Mental Health Center
  • Became Chief of Staff in two years
  • Moved back to CA. Became Clinical Director for Placer County MH Department
  • Subsequently became MH Director in 1981, Served in that Capacity until 1988.

Legislative Career Highlights

  • Worked for Bruce Bronzan in the legislature
  • Wrote Re-alignment 1
  • Key in helping Conform CA Law to align with Persons with Disabilities Act.
  • Heavily involved in gun control legislation

CIMH/CIBHS Career Highlights

  • CiMH formed in 1993 with just Sandra, sharing board with CMHDA
  • Creation of Children’s System of Care
  • Creation of the Center for Multicultural Development
  • Formation of the Cathie Wright Center and Statewide Dissemination of Evidence-Based Practices
  • Fought tirelessly for women’s rights and helped to form the California Mental Health Policy Council.

Direct Services Provider Career Highlights:

  • First Job was as Clinician at Chicago Reed Mental Health Center
  • Became Chief of Staff in two years
  • Moved back to CA. Became Clinical Director for Placer County MH Department
  • Subsequently became MH Director in 1981, Served in that Capacity until 1988.

Please feel free to share your stories Sandra that others might enjoy.

If you need information about the services, please contact Theresa Ferrini at or Alice J. Washington at

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