Madison’s Community Alternative Response for Emergency Services program, or CARES, has responded to 37 emergencies since its implementation on Sept. 1 — an average of three 911 calls per day.
The CARES pilot program provides an alternative response to non-violent mental health and substance abuse emergency calls instead of involving police. CARES teams consist of a paramedic and a Journey Mental Health crisis worker trained to de-escalate situations without the use of physical restraint.
The CARES team defers individuals experiencing mental health or substance abuse emergencies to medical facilities, the Journey Mental Health Center or their homes — if a caregiver is available — as opposed to jail.
According to Journey clinical team manager, Sarah Hendrickson, it is still too soon to draw conclusions about the success of the program, but early results have been promising.
“The calls CARES is being dispatched to align with exactly what we had envisioned, reflecting that the 911 center staff is doing an excellent job of screening appropriate calls for them,” said Hendrickson.
The program currently operates from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays in Madison’s Central Police District, which is located between Lake Mendota and Lake Monona.
The project was allotted $600,000 for the year 2021, according to the annual budget.
Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, who has proposed continuing funding CARES in the 2022 budget proposal, expressed her hopes to expand the pilot project to encompass more of Madison in order to minimize interaction between non-violent calls and the Madison Police Department.
“Madison CARES will send the right person to the right call,” Rhodes-Conway said. “In many instances, sending someone in uniform could escalate, rather than de-escalate, the situation. Madison CARES will reduce trauma for patients and reduce our reliance on emergency rooms and jails, which are sometimes the most costly and least appropriate option.”