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Madison CARES program will respond to behavioral health emergencies

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CARES initiative

MADISON (WKOW) -- The city of Madison is launching a new initiative to respond to people experiencing mental health crises.

The Madison Fire Department’s Community Alternative Response Emergency Services (CARES) team consists of two response teams comprised of one Madison Fire community paramedic and one Journey Mental Health crisis worker. The teams are trained to respond to non-violent behavioral health emergency calls that do not require law enforcement.

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway says a cornerstone of the initiative is ensuring that medical and behavioral healthcare is integrated at the onset of crisis intervention. This increases patient satisfaction while diverting people away from emergency rooms and jails.

"We'll treat mental health emergencies as the medical issues that they are centering patient needs and patient care and linking folks with the treatment options that they need," said Rhodes-Conway.

By September 1, the CARES teams will have completed more than 170 hours of extensive training over the course of two months. This curriculum includes 40-hour crisis intervention training through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), cultural competency training, de-escalation training, suicide prevention and risk assessment, trauma-informed care, and more, exceeding the standard in behavioral health training for paramedics.

Journey Mental Health crisis workers have been trained on dispatch radio protocol and 911 response, as well as other Madison Fire Department policies and operating procedures. Additionally, the CARES teams have been building relationships throughout the community at local resource centers, shelters, and mental health care facilities.

During the early phase of the initiative, the CARES teams will be in service 40 hours per week (weekdays, 11:00 a.m.-7:00 p.m.) responding to calls in the central district.

The teams will begin responding to 911 calls September 1, 2021.