First Step and Coastal Behavioral Healthcare Officially Merge

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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FIRST STEP OF SARASOTA, INC. IS A 501 (C ) (3) ORGANIZATION. A COPY OF THE OFFICIAL REGISTRATION AND FINANCIAL INFORMATION ON CH1573 MAY BE OBTAINED FROM THE DIVISION OF CONSUMER SERVICES BY CALLING TOLL FREE 800 435 7352 WITHIN THE STATE. REGISTRATION DOES NOT IMPLY ENDORSEMENT, APPROVAL OR RECOMMENDATION BY THE STATE.