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Northcountry community overlooking the lake in the fallNorthcountry community overlooking the lake in the fall

At Citizen Advocates, we are committed to making lives better. The individuals, families and communities we serve receive a full range of health and lifestyle care through innovative, industry-leading services and programs. All of this is achieved through a person-centered approach that supports and celebrates each individual’s choices.

We are here to make a positive difference in the life of any individual needing help along the unique road to health, independence and fulfillment. The work we do is driven by respect for humanity and the rights of individuals as they explore what it means to define their own future. We are proud to provide quality, compassionate care and do so from the bottom of our hearts.

Our work may be difficult at times, but that’s what makes it meaningful. We will persevere with courage and optimism. We are Citizen Advocates.

Our mission & values

Mission: Making Lives Better

Our vision is to be the recognized leader of exceptional services and employer of choice. We do this by providing high-quality, person-centered care, through sound financial management, best-in-class customer service and fostering workplace culture that matters.

Our history

Originally founded in 1975, Citizen Advocates served as a work program for individuals with a need for developmental and behavioral health support. At the time, the organization had 12 employees serving 50 individuals. Today, Citizen Advocates employs 750 health professionals and support staff who provide a broad range of services with compassion and skill to 6,500 individuals on an annual basis. With administrative offices in Malone, Citizen Advocates provides developmental disability, mental health and substance abuse prevention, treatment and recovery services throughout Franklin, Clinton, Essex, Hamilton and St. Lawrence counties.

Leadership team

James Button, MSW

James Button, Chief Executive Officer
Mr. Button began his healthcare career as a licensed master social worker, and gained extensive experience in the clinical setting as a case manager, psychiatric crisis clinician and a children’s residential supervisor. During his tenure at Citizen Advocates he has held a variety of progressive leadership positions over the course of a decade. Mr. Button gained a broad understanding of the industry during his experience as the Director of Corporate Compliance and Quality Assurance, where he led the agency to achieve its first national quality accreditation in 2014.

Pursuing his passion for public policy, he left the organization briefly to work closely with state healthcare agencies in Albany as the State of NY transitioned providers from ‘fee for service’ to managed care. During his time in Albany, Mr. Button was responsible for overseeing a statewide regional planning initiative aimed at preparing providers for the move to value based care. He also served as a key liaison between the respective regions and State healthcare executives. While this experience provided him with valuable knowledge of the community behavioral health industry, his deep ties to the North Country were calling him back.

He returned to Citizen Advocates in 2017 to accept the COO position. As COO, Mr. Button was responsible for launching Northwinds Integrated Health Network, IPA and was instrumental in moving the entire network into risk-bearing contracts with managed care companies. Mr. Button’s expertise is in CCBHC, contracting, team building, public speaking, systems change and growth initiatives. He was elevated to CEO in July, 2020.

Karen Lee

Karen Lee, Chief Financial Strategy Officer
With a primary responsibility for financial strategy at Citizen Advocates, Karen is actively seeking out opportunities for expanded revenue streams, innovative programs, and managing the expenses that are often created as a direct result of a highly-regulated healthcare environment.  This is in addition to being responsible for the sound fiscal stewardship of the organization on a daily basis. 

Prior to Citizen Advocates, Karen was the Chief Executive Officer for Adirondacks ACO in Plattsburgh. The organization works with healthcare providers, like Citizen Advocates, and insurers, who have a shared goal of improving healthcare outcomes while managing and taking financial responsibility for the quality and total cost of care.  She also held several executive-level leadership positions in the Pacific Northwest with employed and independent physicians, physician/hospital organizations, independent practice associations, accountable care organizations and health insurance plans.

Dr. Joshua Frank

Dr. Joshua Frank, Chief Medical Officer
Dr. Frank first worked for Citizen Advocates from 2010 to 2017, when he left to serve as Medical Director of Behavioral Health at Canton-Potsdam Hospital. In addition to providing treatment services at Citizen Advocates Behavioral Health Clinics and Crisis & Recovery Center in Malone, Dr. Frank has direct oversight over other physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners and nursing staff.  

Jennifer Dishaw

Jennifer Dishaw, Chief of Staff
As Chief of Staff, Jennifer is directly responsible for managing the day-to-day priorities for the Executive Leadership Team.  In addition to her duties related to the Executive Team, Jennifer has management oversight of Information Technology, Support Services, Communications & Government Affairs and Billing.  Prior to becoming Chief of Staff in 2019, Jennifer led a major initiative to modernize Citizen Advocates’ Electronic Medical Record system, known as NetSmart.  Jennifer is familiar with the billing aspects of healthcare delivery, having managed the Billing Department for 11 years.

Heather Perrin

Heather Perrin, Chief Compliance Officer
A North Country native, Heather returned to the area in 2016 after a decade in Florida to accept the position of Director of Corporate Compliance and Quality Assurance at Citizen Advocates.   Prior to completing her law degree in 2011, she has held several positions in the human services field.  Under her leadership, the Compliance Department has expanded to a team of eight individuals responsible for improving the quality of our services and advocating for the people we support.   The scope of the Compliance and Quality Assurance Department also includes ethics and overall risk management.

Cana Tighe

Cana Tighe, Human Resources
Cana is a Certified Professional in Human Resources and has been consulting and managing for over 20 years. Cana’s area of expertise are diverse, ranging from strategic planning, HR compliance, payroll management and employee benefit administration. In her current role with the Executive team she is excited to work with Citizen Advocates, aligning the organization’s mission, vision and core values. She will support the HR department and focus on strategic planning and collaboration to improve efficiencies and enhance policies and procedures.

Board of Directors

Nicholas Eells, President
Jennifer Bilow, Vice President
Deanna Smith, Treasurer
Lori Tourville, Secretary
Brock Arnold
Loretta Fowler
Paul Goodrow
Felix Tam

Sub-committee Chairs
Finance & Planning: Nicholas Eells
Integrated Services: Jennifer Bilow
Governance & Compliance: Felix Tam