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SARASOTA, Fla., Nov. 10, 2020 — First Step of Sarasota continues to build on the strategic positioning of the new organization, announcing a new slate of officers and three new board members.  

The strategic unification of First Step of Sarasota and Coastal Behavioral Healthcare was initiated to create a comprehensive system of care and more effective solutions for those with mental health and addiction disorders.  The three new board members solidifies that unification and strengthens the organization. First Step of Sarasota has heightened its level of community response and increased the complexity of its services to meet the growing needs of the community.  

First Step of Sarasota's new board members are: Kathleen "Katy" Barclay, former Senior VP of Kroger Co.; David F. Lyons, former CEO with Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines; and John Leslie, a recognized thought leader in healthcare information technology.  

Its new slate of board officers are: Chair, Deputy Chief Patrick Robinson;  Vice-Chair, Ron Turner; Secretary, Jack Cox; and Treasurer, Jay Miller.

New board member Kathleen (Katy) Barclay was chief human resources officer and senior vice president of Kroger Co., a $110 billion grocery retail company, until her retirement in 2015. Before joining The Kroger Co., Barclay spent 30 years at General Motors Corp., her last 12 years there as chief human resources officer and senior vice president of global human resources. She currently serves on the boards of Five Below and of Kontoor Brands.    

David F. Lyons had a long and successful career with The Coca-Cola Co., holding positions in business strategy, new business ventures, regional director and division president, subsequently becoming CEO and president of Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines.  Lyons' extensive career with Coca-Cola also included serving as managing director for the 10-country Central Africa Region and vice president of the Southern Africa Division. He also is a Certified Professional Coach trained by the College of Executive Coaching.

John Leslie’s 30-plus years in healthcare information technology spans many aspects of the industry. Leslie was the founder, chief technology officer and director of Ellumen Inc. a company providing healthcare IT services supporting the Department of Defense and Veterans Administration. Prior to that, Lyons was the chief architect for healthcare solutions at Northrop Grumman.  He is a graduate of Penn State University.  

About First Step of Sarasota

First Step of Sarasota, a non-profit organization, finalized its consolidation with Coastal Behavioral Healthcare on July 1, 2020.  It is now the largest nonprofit behavioral healthcare agency in Sarasota County. The organization is dedicated to creating wellness and inspiring the first step toward a better tomorrow for those with mental health and addiction disorders. First Step of Sarasota has seven outpatient offices, four residential programs for adults and youth, the crisis stabilization unit and detox/addiction receiving facility and 15 community outreach, prevention and intervention programs for adults and youth.  First Step of Sarasota has 276 licensed beds, serves Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and De Soto Counties and is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.  

COMMUNITY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH RESPONSE TEAMS
Mobile Response Team (MRT) & Behavioral Health Response Team (BHRT)
Mobile Response Team (MRT) 941-364-9355
This program begins January 1, 2021
The Mobile Response Team (MRT) provides around-the-clock 24/7/365 intervention through our Access Center
to youth, adults and families who are experiencing a mental health and/or substance use crisis.
Services are available at your home, school and other community-based locations or at our Access Center
location (1451 10th Street) via phone, telehealth. Interventions are provided by a multi-disciplinary team of
mental health and substance use professionals who work with individuals and families create a comprehensive
plan for stabilization and sustained recovery. The MRT is available to all residents of all ages in Sarasota
County.
The team will serve low income, uninsured clients as well as those that have Medicare, Medicaid and most
commercial insurances. The team will respond to any and all calls for services and will provide a 72 hour
follow up.
The MRT supports the community by providing immediate response emergency same-day intervention for all
ages who are experiencing a mental health or substance use crisis.
 Respond to requests within a 60-minute timeframe
 Provide behavioral health crisis-oriented services that are responsive to the individual and family needs
 Respond to crisis in the location in which it is occurring
 Provide screening, standardized assessments, early identification and linkage to community services
 Whenever possible the team will include family members
 Develop a care and safety plan
 Provide care coordination by facilitating the transition to ongoing services through a warm hand-off,
including psychiatric evaluation and medication management
 Ensure the process for informed consent and HIPPA compliance measures
 Promote information sharing and use of innovative technology, i.e.: mobile applications, telehealth
Page 2: Behavioral Health Response Team
4579 Northgate Court, Sarasota, Florida 34234 941 366-5333 Fax: 941 953-4673 www.fsos.org
COMMUNITY BEHAVIORAL HEALTH RESPONSE TEAMS
Mobile Response Team (MRT) & Behavioral Health Response Team (BHRT)
Behavioral Health Response Team (BHRT) 941-364-9355
The Behavioral Health Response Team (BHRT) is a pilot program; a service mobilized to home, hospital, office or any
other site in the community the adult (18+) is located and in need of immediate behavioral health support 24/7/365 and
in crisis.
This pilot program for high need clients is designed for a particular population that often have unmet care needs, serious
mental health, substance use and co-occurring diagnoses and at least two hospitalizations during the previous 12
months. First Step currently provides services to these clients as they have been admitted into either Detox or the Crisis
Unit voluntarily and under the Baker or Marchman Act. In this pilot program, we will be asking these clients to work
with us in order to help divert a crisis and unnecessary hospitalization.
The BHRT will use experienced, Masters-level and licensed clinicians in partnership with psychiatrists, nursing and law
enforcement to provide therapeutic interventions in the community in addition to on-site services. The team will be
trained in crisis intervention skills to ensure timely access to supports and services. They will help to resolve the crisis
and will work with the individual and their families to identify and develop safety plans and other strategies for
effectively remaining in the least restrictive environment.
The Behavioral Health Response Team will work with community stakeholders; law enforcement, emergency
responders, businesses and other health and human service related providers, to develop a plan for immediate
response, de-escalation and stabilization. The BHRT team will follow the client for two weeks.
The goal of this pilot program is to lessen trauma, divert from emergency departments, prevent unnecessary
psychiatric hospitalizations and collaborate with law enforcement when a behavioral health crisis is taking
place for a high need client.
Objective of the program:
 Addressing the needs of this population through creating a person centered treatment and safety plan
 Onsite, face-to-face therapeutic response including short-term, solution-focused counseling
 Responding rapidly, assess effectively, deliver a course of treatment
 Offer medically necessary services in the least-restrictive environment that is most conducive to stabilization
and recovery
 Promote recovery, ensure safety, and stabilize the crisis
 Facilitate access to other levels of care; inpatient, outpatient and other resources
 Referral and linkages to community based providers
 Schedule outpatient follow-up synonymous with a warm transfer handoff will support ongoing care
 Safety plans will be created in collaboration with the clients behavioral health providers
 Early intervention will prevent costly and unnecessary stays in hospitals and correctional facilities
 Evaluate and initiate Baker Act and Marchman Act as needed in partnership with local law enforcement

SARASOTA, Fla., Dec. 15, 2020 — First Step of Sarasota today announced the formation of a Behavioral Health Response Team (BHRT), a pilot program for individuals with critical behavioral health needs and their families.  This service, a collaboration with the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office and Sarasota Police Department, will focus on providing a system of care within the community for those who are in crisis because of behavioral health needs. 

The goal of this pilot program is to lessen trauma, divert cases from emergency departments, prevent unnecessary psychiatric hospitalizations and collaborate with law enforcement when high need individuals are having a behavioral health crisis.  

The Behavioral Health Response Team is a 24/7/365 service that can respond to homes, hospitals, offices or any other site in the community to meet with a high-need individual aged 18 and older in their normal environment, thereby eliminating stress.  The BHRT team will address the needs of the individuals by creating a safety plan that is unique to that individual, providing personalized, person-centered care.  The safety plan will be recorded with the BHRT team and law enforcement and it will identify coping mechanisms, supports that are in place, individualized triggers and any psychiatric advance directives. 

First Step CEO Gwen MacKenzie said, “As we think about the stress of our current times, it is entirely appropriate for us as a helping organization to think about meeting people with mental illness or substance use challenges as early as we can and in a setting they feel safe in. We hope that, through these approaches, to prevent crises and acute events. We are fortunate to have the collaboration of law enforcement and their leadership.”  

The Behavioral Health Response Team will use experienced, masters-level and licensed clinicians in partnership with psychiatrists and law enforcement to provide therapeutic interventions in the community in addition to on-site services.  The team will be trained in crisis intervention skills to ensure timely access to supports and services.    

Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said, “The Sarasota Police Department is proud to partner with First Step on this important initiative.  We have been working for a long time to implement a response program to address mental health issues in our community.

“While our officers receive crisis response training, having a trained professional work with high-need individuals will take a burden off of law enforcement, ultimately benefitting the individual, their family, and our community," DiPino said. "We look forward to implementing this pilot program as well as future partnership initiatives with First Step.”  

The Behavioral Health Response Team will also be extremely effective dealing with the added challenges of the pandemic. COVID-19 has added to isolation and socioeconomic stressors. exacerbating underlying issues for individuals with depression and anxiety.  This leads to higher likelihood of mental health problems, addiction issues and suicide.  

Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight, who is also incoming CEO of First Step, noted, “This team is an outgrowth of the national conversation about the sometimes difficult intersection of policing and mental health issues. We are proud to be taking proactive steps to create a system that works for our community.

"As it evolves," he said, "we envision that people with mental health issues and their family members will have a place to call not only during a crisis but well before, reducing unnecessary law enforcement actions and preventing worst-case scenarios.  We hope to see this become a model for our region and state.”

About First Step of Sarasota

First Step of Sarasota finalized its consolidation with Coastal Behavioral Healthcare on July 1, 2020.  The coming together of these two agencies will create more impactful solutions for those individuals with mental health and addiction disorders.  First Step of Sarasota has seven outpatient offices, four residential programs for adults and youth, the crisis stabilization unit and detox/addiction receiving facility and 15 community outreach, prevention and intervention programs for adults and youth.  First Step of Sarasota has 276 licensed beds, serves Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and DeSoto Counties and is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities.  

SARASOTA, Fla., Nov. 17, 2020 — First Step of Sarasota continues to build on the strategic positioning of its reimagined and newly merged organization with the announcement of a bold pick for its next president and chief executive officer: Tom Knight, the outgoing sheriff of Sarasota County. 

First Step’s board of directors named Knight to the position after a comprehensive national executive search. He will leave his position as sheriff on Jan. 5, 2021, and begin in his new position on Jan. 25, taking over from interim CEO Gwen MacKenzie, the former CEO of the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System.

“Although we had many excellent candidates, our board voted unanimously to appoint Sheriff Knight,” First Step board chairman Pat Robinson said. “Tom has proven himself as an innovative leader who defies stereotypes and can transform organizations. He also has a genuine love for our community and passion for helping people who need support. We are confident in his abilities and excited to see where he leads First Step.” 

A familiar face to many, Knight has served as Sarasota County’s top law enforcement officer for the past 12 years. He was first elected as sheriff in November 2008 and subsequently ran unopposed for two additional four-year terms. With a budget of $121 million, he oversees approximately 1,000 employees as well as multiple divisions and services, including law enforcement, jail operations, animal services, judicial security, homeless outreach and the 911 emergency operations center. 

Knight leaves a legacy that includes a crime rate reduction of more than 50 percent and many firsts, including the first law enforcement executive to use county ordinances to fight “pill mills;” the first sheriff in the Southeastern U.S. to create jail-based recovery and community re-entry programs; the first in the region to implement the use of Narcan to prevent overdoses; and the first Florida sheriff to adopt intelligence-led policing. His innovative efforts resulted in widespread recognition, including the Florida Association of Counties Partner of the Year award and, recently, the Salvation Army’s Humanitarian of the Year award. 

“I am honored to have been selected for this position by the board of directors and eager to get to work with the excellent and highly dedicated employees of First Step." Knight said. "Addiction and mental illness eventually touch most families, regardless of age, income, or status, and I want to make sure our community has the best support and finest services available. I want to build on the work that has recently taken place and make First Step a model for our region and state.” 

About First Step of Sarasota 

First Step of Sarasota, a non-profit organization, finalized its consolidation with Coastal Behavioral Healthcare on July 1, 2020. It is now the largest nonprofit behavioral healthcare agency in Sarasota County. The organization is dedicated to creating wellness and inspiring the first step toward a better tomorrow for those with mental health and addiction disorders. First Step of Sarasota has seven outpatient offices, four residential programs for adults and youth, the crisis stabilization unit and detox/addiction receiving facility and 15 community outreach, prevention and intervention programs for adults and youth. First Step of Sarasota has 276 licensed beds, serves Sarasota, Manatee, Charlotte and De Soto Counties and is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities. 

Tom Knight

Local broadcast news outlet WSNN has done an interview with Tracey Weeden, head of First Step of Sarasota's In-Patient & Residential Services, about the effects of COVID-19 on minority populations.

Tracey Weeden, head of First Step of Sarasota's 
In-Patient & Residential Services.

July is Minority Mental Health Awareness month, an observance seeking to destigmatize mental illness among people of color.

"Minority populations have been disproportionally dying from COVID-19,  disproportionally affected by COVID-19, including access to appropriate healthcare," Weeden said.

This link will take you to the video of the interview. 

SARASOTA, Fla., July 1, 2020 – After a nine-month consolidation process, First Step of Sarasota and Coastal Behavioral Healthcare today officially began operations under the First Step name and brand. The core services and programs will still be available to community members in need, and the organization's leaders say the merger will result in stronger, more comprehensive solutions for those with mental health and addiction disorders.

The nonprofit agencies share a similar focus of providing addiction recovery programs and behavioral health services in Sarasota, Manatee, DeSoto, and Charlotte counties. By combining operations, First Step will now be able to offer a more collaborative approach to solving issues related to addiction disorders and behavioral health care, provide more comprehensive services, operate more cost-effectively, and improve efficiency. Its staff – many of whom note that they were often referring clients to each other before the merger – will be better able to ensure a better continuum of care for its clients. 

“We’ve really been working on making sure that – no matter where a client decides to access care or if a change in care is needed – they have a seamless transition to additional services,” said Tracey Weeden, LCSW, First Step’s chief inpatient and residential services officer. “Now there aren’t any areas of a situation with regard to someone's personal wellness that we can't assist with.” 

With the merger, First Step has 33 locations throughout the area. Additionally, First Step is in 17 schools, providing prevention education and mental health services in an effort to ward off future crises.

The merger enables the organization to further the “no wrong door” approach to social services, whereby any point of entry results in a client receiving direct services or links to services, plus case coordination, rather than being bounced from one agency to another. 

“The continuity and continuum of care have both just been solidified for the community,” First Step President and CEO Gwen M. MacKenzie said. “Now we can seamlessly serve individuals: If they are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues or both, we have the ability to provide that care – whether inpatient, outpatient or in crisis.

"Combined with our expansion into schools and further into the community, I believe we're well-positioned to provide the supports needed for youth through adults.”

First Step of Sarasota is now the largest nonprofit behavioral health care agency in Sarasota County. Its long-term goal is further collaboration with the area's private and public entities.

Its signature programs include: The Compass Center, a four-acre residential center in Punta Gorda for boys and girls, ages 13-17, who are struggling with drug, alcohol and co-occurring mental health disorders; the 37-bed Kreisman Center Crisis Stabilization Unit for adults experiencing a severe emotional or psychiatric crisis; a 30-bed Detoxification Unit; and the Mothers and Infants program, which recently celebrated its 476th baby born drug-free.

Other programs and services include residential and outpatient detox, maternal wellness, forensic services and case management.

Board chair Dana B. Keane, Esq., encourages anyone who feels a need to seek help. “We have all been touched by addiction or mental health issues,” Keane said. “It’s a strength to ask for help. Therapy is a wonderful thing and everyone should seek it – all you have to do is reach out and ask.”

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