FAMU Professor secures $3.5M to support Florida’s First Responders

Assistant professor at FAMU Kellie O'Dare receives $2.5 Million in funding that will go towards...
Assistant professor at FAMU Kellie O'Dare receives $2.5 Million in funding that will go towards first responders.(Florida A&M University)
Published: Mar. 4, 2022 at 4:54 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Kellie O’Dare, Ph.D., Assistant Professor at Florida A&M University’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health receiving millions of dollars to support the wellness of the state’s first responders.

O’Dare, also the Director of the 2nd Alarm Project, was awarded an estimated $2.5 million from the Florida Department of Children and Families to continue her collaborative effort in addition to the more than $1 million previously awarded for first responder resiliency initiatives. She received the grant as a part of an initiative founded by Casey DeSantis, wife of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. That statewide initiative includes $12 million in funding for programs and services created for first responders and their families.

O’Dare’s projects were awarded $2.5 million in funding to support two key endeavors. The first is to facilitate the creation and distribution of open access “tactical Resiliency Toolkit” for first responders.

“The toolkit is an evidence-based, culturally competent behavioral health and resiliency resource that will enable first responder agencies statewide to increase internal capacity to build and sustain their own comprehensive wellness programs for members, families, and retirees,” said O’Dare.

She goes on to say that first responders respond to a variety of calls and medical situations that combined with everyday off-the-job stressors may have an adverse impact on their mental health.

“As a population, first responders are more likely to experience untreated Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, substance use, and suicidal thoughts...Unfortunately, many first responders have developed serious mental health and co-occurring substance use issues or ultimately found themselves embattled with the struggle of suicidal thoughts and behaviors that can potentially lead to tragically ending their own life. Combined with stigma surrounding help-seeking behaviors, lack of systematic resource and referral programs, and other barriers to care, first responders do not routinely receive a continuum of evidence-based assessment and treatment services from trained mental health professionals,” she expressed.

According to O’Dare, the goal of the toolkit is to provide resources that will mitigate traumatic stress and reduce the incidence of attempted and completed suicide among responders. To create the kit, she’s partnered with Ph.D. David Rozek, the director of the National Center for Excellence for First Responder Behavioral Health at the University of Central Florida.

O’Dare and her FAMU team partnered with colleagues at the University of West Florida conducted a joint survey. Results found that among nearly 1,500 Northwest Florida first responders surveyed, more than 75 percent showed signs of depression, 39 percent reported to have anxiety and 23 percent displayed symptoms of PTSD. The study also found a significant association between exposure to traumatic events on the job and a higher prevalence of mental health and substance use concerns.

“This award is a testament to the commitment, passion and hard work of our public health faculty member Dr. Kellie O’Dare, in addressing the need for strengthening the behavioral wellness of Florida’s first responders,” said Cynthia Harris, Ph.D., director of the Institute of Public Health and CoPPS, IPH associate dean.

O’Dare and her team will provide services such as developing and sustaining first responder peer support networks, increasing coordination of mental health resources for deployment during disasters and critical incidents, aligning information and referral resources, providing behavioral health navigation services and promoting long term sustainability of behavioral health access programs for first responders and their families through regional strategic planning efforts.

In July of 2021, she traveled with Tallahassee’s first responder to South Florida to assist in the search and rescue efforts at the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside.

O’Dare went on to say the vision of the project is to ensure individual responders, their families and the organizational level resilience within the first responder community in order to improve the quality of life for them and their families throughout their and beyond.

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