Madison CARES program extends service to weekends

The program consists of Madison Fire Department community paramedics and a Journey mental health crisis workers.
Published: Sep. 16, 2023 at 9:27 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Beginning Saturday, a service to help residents with mental health related issues is now being offered seven days a week.

The Madison CARES (Community Alternative Response Emergency Services) program is extending its service to weekends.

The program consists of Madison Fire Department community paramedics and a Journey mental health crisis workers. The teams respond to people experiencing non-violent behavioral health emergencies, and Sept. 16 marked the beginning of their new weekend service.

“We knew this expansion was coming,” Madison Fire Assistant Chief of EMS Operations Ché Stedman said. “We really just need to make sure that we were hiring good workers, getting them on boarded and trained before we could actually start weekend hours.”

Madison CARES had been operating Monday through Friday since its launch in 2021.

The program is based out of two Madison Fire stations including Fire Station 3 along Williamson Street and the old Town of Madison Fire Station on Fish Hatchery Road.

On weekends, the program will operate out of its old Town of Madison Fire Station.

Stedman said the program has responded to over 3,200 calls for service since being created.

“What we are learning truly is that the more resources we put on the street, the more use of those resources there will be,” Stedman said. “The variety of calls that we go on is really broad. (The responders) really do have to have the bandwidth to handle not only different types of mental health calls, but different ages of people, different demographics and that’s really what they train hard to do.”

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said it’s important to have a city-wide service like CARES.

“I think mental health is a really severe issue facing our community and our entire nation, coming out of the pandemic in particular,” Rhodes-Conway said. “I hope we are all paying more attention to our mental health.”

Services are offered between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends.

Eventually, Stedman says the hope is to offer the CARES program 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“We collect a lot of data around not just the demographics of patients, but the call volumes,” Stedman said. “Certain spots in the city are busier than others. As we’ve expanded, we’ve always used that data to inform us about what the next appropriate expansion should look like.”

Madison CARES partners with Dane County health officials because they have statutory oversight on what a mental health related response looks like.

The CARES response is only available by calling 911. From there, the Dane County Public Safety Communications Center will determine whether the nature of the emergency is appropriate for CARES.

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