Dane County Executive Joe Parisi announced funding for the expansion of the Community Alternative Response Emergency Services (CARES) program to countywide service Wednesday in the 2024 county budget.
CARES — a program that dispatches mental health professionals and paramedics to respond to nonviolent behavioral health emergencies as an alternative to law enforcement — began as a pilot in September 2021 and operated in the Central District of Madison and soon expanded to provide service citywide.
Parisi announced the 2024 Dane County budget will include $400,000 to create a 911 Dispatch Diversion Team of four new crisis physicians that will initially respond to calls in the county from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.
“Behavioral health emergencies don’t follow political or municipal borders,” Parisi said during a press conference Wednesday. “This initiative will help more people get the help they need when they need it.”
The 2024 budget will also include $200,000 in county grant funds for communities looking to be serviced under the CARES program.
The CARES program has seen success at the city level, Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said. Since the program’s launch in 2021, the team has responded to over 3,200 calls, city officials previously told The Daily Cardinal.
“It’s grown slowly and deliberately but steadily,” Rhodes-Conway said. “We are providing high-quality care to our residents in crisis.”
The city’s CARES program consists of two teams on call at a time during service hours. Each team consists of a Journey Mental Health Center crisis worker and a Madison Fire Department paramedic.
The program is also eyeing to expand by adding an additional response team by the end of the year after the Madison Common Council provided more extensive funding for the program in the city’s 2023 budget.
Sun Prairie Mayor Paul Esser said he would like to see the program provide service for Sun Prairie’s growing population, and the 2024 budget helps provide needed funding for smaller communities in the county to roll out mental health emergency response teams.
“We are a rapidly growing community, and this is a service that we know we need to grow into,” Esser said during the press conference.
If the program is successful, the county hopes to expand CARES into a 24-hour service, Parisi said. Parisi hopes to use the program to collect data on the location and volume of calls to inform future decisions on how many staff members the county will need to hire.
“Teaming together, we can improve frontline mental health services and reduce unnecessary law enforcement and emergency room contacts and continue to grow toward our goal of ensuring proper and compassionate services for all of our neighbors in need,” Parisi said.
Parisi will announce the full 2024 county budget Oct. 1.