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City of Madison to pilot 911 response related to mental health

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 9:45 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - After more than a year in the making, the City of Madison is close to changing how it responds to 911 calls dealing with mental health.

CARES, or Community Alternative Response Emergency Services, is a program set to launch in late August, according to the Madison Fire Department.

Che Stedman, assistant chief of medical affairs, said under the pilot 911 operators can choose to send a crisis worker from the Journey Mental Health Center alongside a community paramedic from the fire department.

While paramedics are already trained “to a certain level” to deal with mental health crises, Stedman said the community paramedics will get extra training, including one from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Currently, he explained, “Law enforcement are the first people that get sent into these calls, so this is just kind of what we consider to be a more appropriate, behavioral health, mental health response.”

Stedman continued, if the situation is violent or involves weapons, law enforcement will still be dispatched.

The city passed a resolution in July 2020 that created the pilot.

“We want to make sure that individuals are getting the resources that they need and that we can divert from the criminal justice system,” District 11 Alder Arvina Martin told NBC15 in June 2020.

According to Stedman, the responding pair from the CARES program will not be riding ambulances, which can feel “intimidating.” He said they will be in vans that have the program logo on it.

City of Madison "CARES" program
City of Madison "CARES" program(Courtesy of Madison Fire Department)

After an expected launch date of August 23, Stedman said the pilot’s end has not been determined. He said the program will have to be evaluated upon receiving data.

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