Community Alternative Response Emergency Services (CARES)

CARES teams standing together

CARES is designed to serve as an additional available resource for behavioral health emergencies that occur in our community. A cornerstone of the initiative is to ensure that medical and behavioral healthcare is integrated at the onset of crisis intervention, increasing patient satisfaction while diverting people away from emergency rooms and jails.

CARES response is only available by calling 911. The Dane County Public Safety Communications (911) Center will determine whether the nature of the emergency is appropriate for CARES, and a CARES team will be dispatched if on-duty and available.

Modeled after successful patient-centered programs like STAR in Denver, Colorado and CAHOOTS in Eugene, Oregon, CARES consists of two response teams comprised of one Madison Fire Department community paramedic and one Journey Mental Health Center crisis worker.

These teams are trained and equipped to respond to non-violent behavioral health emergency calls that do not require law enforcement. Their training curriculum included 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.

In addition to responding to 911 calls, the CARES teams spend considerable time building relationships throughout the community at local resource centers, shelters, and mental health care facilities. Between active calls for service, the teams also follow up with their patients to ensure they have been connected with the services they need.

CARES is headquartered at Fire Station 3 on Williamson Street and the old Town of Madison Fire Station on Fish Hatchery Road. CARES responds to calls weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and weekends from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

This initiative was made possible with support from the Madison Fire Department, Madison Police Department, the City of Madison, Dane County Department of Human Services, Journey Mental Health Center, and Dane County Public Safety Communications (911). Additionally, the City of Madison Information Technology Department is assisting with data collection so we can better understand who is being served by CARES, the outcomes of calls for service, and anticipate where to expand services in the next phase of this initiative.

CARES began responding to behavioral health emergency calls on September 1, 2021. At this time, the program is still in its early developmental stages. We hope to eventually make CARES available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Read the 2022 CARES annual report.

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