Strike team relies on network, community

Kevin Chinault has a small budget for the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Strike Team for Sarasota Community Organizations Active in Disaster, but a wealth of organizational resources at his disposal.

“The Mental Health and Substance Abuse Strike Team is based on local health professionals (in Sarasota County) represented from different providers,” said Chinault, CEO of Sarasota-based Mental Health Community Center and strike team board member. “We prepared for an array of different emergencies.”

COAD was started in the aftermath of Charley as a committee under the Community Alliance of Sarasota County. It works with various organizations and networks to provide appropriate services. COAD has six strike teams; each addresses a serviceable need within a community throughout a disaster — developmental disabilities, elder care, mental health and substance abuse, volunteers and donations, homeless, and youth and families, according to their website.

The mission statement for the Mental Health and Substance Abuse Strike Team is “to provide behavioral health response and recovery activities after disaster events, to ensure community access to critical incident stress management information, and to target crisis intervention services to individuals and groups directly or indirectly impacted per requests from Health and Human Services Operations Center and the public.”

Chinault said they meet monthly from May to October, and every other month in the offseason. After a disaster, demand for services grows.

Organizations that work with the strike team include the American Red Cross, Department of Children and Families, United Way 2-1-1, Medical Reserve Corps Sarasota County, among others.

The Reisman Center Crisis Stabilization Unit of Coastal Behavioral Healthcare in Sarasota provides emergency services 24 hours per day, seven days per week to individuals age 18 and older who are experiencing a severe emotional or psychiatric crisis. First Step Addictions Recovery is a Sarasota-based licensed and accredited recovery center offering an array of services from detox to outpatient.

“The Crisis Stabilization Unit serves 1,500 people a year and Addictions Receiving Facility serves 800 in their facility,” Chinault said.

Chinault said 18 per- cent of the Florida population is diagnosed with a mental illness, while 5 percent are severe cases.

“The majority diagnosed with mental illness you wouldn’t know have it (because they) are the ones who manage it,” he said. “The biggest needs tend to be in larger populated areas like in Sarasota, North Port and Venice.”

Tracking those who have mental illness and substance abuse problems becomes difficult in a rough economy, according to Bill Ropke, CEO of Lighthouse Addiction Services, which is not associated with COAD. Lighthouse Addiction Services has offices in Englewood and Port Charlotte.

“If you don’t have the means to help address those problems properly, they exacerbate the problems through other means,” Ropke said. “There are significant amount of people who are addressing their issues through substances, legal and illegal. The problem with tracking those with mental health issues is that many are transient, since many have issues holding jobs.”

Chinault said there are a lot of nationwide resources at its disposal and they can do a lot with what little they have.

“The under- or noninsured folks are the ones who fall through the gaps,” he said. “The state and county are providing resources to treat the uninsured and the federal government is providing grants.”

Ropke said existing facilities like Charlotte Behavioral are stretched financially to provide what limited services they can. Even as a provider, he’s constrained by similar limitations and the type and extent of services he can provide for free.

“When you have the scenario where you have some help is better than no help, you might have the issue where quality suffers,” Ropke said.

For more information, visit or call 941-861-2579.


About Tom

Tom Chang is a freelance journalist with a background in multimedia journalism and web publishing. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Journalism and Media Studies from the University of South Florida St.Petersburg. He graduated in 2004 with a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications at USF Tampa. Tom's interests include a little bit of everything from entertainment to sports. He also wishes to delve into creative writing writing sci-fi/fantasy stories. Tom was recently the Online Editor for USF St. Petersburg's the Crow's Nest, he joined the staff in January 2010 where he started freelance writing, photographing, copy editing and later became a staff writer. Tom’s freelance experience in journalism amassed a wide range of companies including Creative Loafing, The Focus Magazine, Lutz News,, and Tampa Tribune.
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