Dr. Margie Balfour Receives Criminal Justice Award from NAMI

Oct. 10, 2022

Margaret “Margie” Balfour, MD, PhD, an associate professor in the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson’s Department of Psychiatry, received the Sam Cochran Criminal Justice Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. The award is typically given to people who are employed within the criminal justice system and work to improve the fair and humane treatment of people with mental illness within the system. Dr. Balfour is the first person not employed by the criminal justice system to receive the award. 

Margaret “Margie” Balfour, MD, PhD

Margaret “Margie” Balfour, MD, PhD

“My work has been focused on keeping people with mental illness out of the justice system altogether by creating crisis services that are easy for law enforcement to access,” Dr. Balfour said. “Receiving an award like this means that our criminal justice colleagues see this as partnership, and that’s really gratifying, because that’s what we’ve been working to achieve.

“This work motivates me both as a physician, from a clinical perspective, and as a citizen, from a social justice perspective,” she added. “There is a gaping disparity between how medical versus psychiatric emergencies are handled in most communities.”

Outside of the University, Dr. Balfour is the chief of quality and clinical innovation at Connections Health Solutions, an organization that provides behavioral health crisis care to those in need. Connections Health Solutions operates and manages the Tucson Crisis Response Center, an observation and evaluation facility that provides help to people experiencing various types of crises. 

“I’m very fortunate to have the opportunity at Connections Health Solutions to do work that makes a difference,” Dr. Balfour said. “Over the past couple of decades, Arizona has built a crisis system that provides immediate access to mental health and substance use care via a coordinated system of crisis hotlines, mobile crisis teams and specialized crisis facilities like the Tucson Crisis Response Center and the Urgent Psychiatric Center in Phoenix.

“The Connections Health Solutions founders pioneered these models, and in my role, I’ve been able to further refine the model and develop quality measures so that the field can study and improve outcomes. With the rollout of the new 9-8-8 mental health emergency number in July, the rest of the country is looking to build similar crisis systems, so there is a lot of interest in the work we’re doing. I’m excited for the opportunity to help improve care in other communities.”

Dr. Balfour is also grateful to be part of the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson faculty. “I value my relationship with the University. I think it’s especially important to teach the upcoming generations of psychiatrists about the innovations in crisis care happening here in Arizona.”

According to the NAMI website, it is “the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for millions of Americans affected by mental illness.”