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Sonja Gaines, Austin

Sonja Gaines serves as the Deputy Executive Commissioner for Behavioral Health Services at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC). With more than 25 years of community mental health leadership experience, she oversees the policy and delivery of community-based services and supports for people with behavioral health conditions.

Since joining HHSC in 2014, Commissioner Gaines has spearheaded the establishment of the first Statewide Behavioral Health Coordinating Council across 23 state agencies, as well as the development of the first five-year Statewide Behavioral Health Strategic plan designed to address gaps in the behavioral health system, and most recently, an updated edition with a plan to divert people with behavioral health needs from the criminal justice system. Under her leadership, her team manages more than $1.5B of statewide behavioral health services, including substance use and mental health services, veterans matching grant programs, and the Texas Opioid Response federal grant.

Through her vision, services have been expanded to meet the need of Texans through Coordinated Specialty Care, Home and Community- Based Services, Outpatient Competency Restoration, and Peer Services as a Medicaid benefit. Sonja has also overseen the redesign of the website, which resulted in an average of my than 40,000 visits monthly. Additionally, she led efforts to eliminate the community mental health wait list and steered Texas to national recognition by providing quality accessible statewide mental health services across Texas through Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinics.

On a national level, Commissioner Gaines has received appointments to various behavioral health related boards and councils including the National Center for State Courts ( and National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors Research Institute (NRI). Sonja holds a master’s degree in business administration from Texas Women’s University, as well as bachelor’s degrees in psychology and sociology from the University of Maryland and William Paterson University, respectively. Her vision is to create a unified approach to behavioral health services that ensures all Texans have access to the right care at the right time and place.