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I want to thank everyone for being here today to celebrate a bit of good news. Another important City innovation that will make lives a little bit easier for many of our residents facing behavioral health challenges.
Today we are launching a new emergency response team called Madison Community Alternative Response Emergency Services or Madison CARES. It is specially designed for our residents undergoing a behavioral health crisis. It will pair a community paramedic and a Journey Mental Health Crisis worker. They will be charged with responding to nonviolent behavioral health emergencies in this little grey van starting on September 1.
The initiative will run out of our Fire department, here at Station 3 to start, with a program supervisor housed in Public Health Madison Dane County.
1) Madison CARES and we want to treat behavioral health emergencies as the medical issues they are, centering patient needs and patient care and linking them to treatment options.
2) Madison CARES and we want to send the right person to the right call. In many instances, sending someone in uniform could escalate rather than deescalate the situation.
3) Madison CARES and we want to reduce trauma for patients, reduce the number of frequent flyers, and reduce our reliance on emergency rooms and jails, which are sometimes the most costly and least appropriate option.
This endeavor was included in my executive budget last year with additional support from the Common Council. It grew out of the City’s effort to create non-law enforcement alternatives for non-violent emergency calls. But it is arriving at just the right time when for too many COVID has deepened anxiety and despair leading to increase calls for service related to behavioral health needs.
Most folks will start to call this the “CARES van.” And if you need the CARES van for an emergency you are going to need to call 911. As has been explained by Luis Bixler, 911 will screen calls and decide on the most appropriate response for the emergency at hand.
Prior to COVID we estimated that that 911 received about 7,000 behavioral health related calls per year, the vast majority involving people in need of de-escalation and a helping hand. The Madison CARES initiative was designed to uniquely serve the needs of the Madison community through careful consideration of available data and with invaluable direction from those with lived experience and those working in the mental health field.
For the first phase of this initiative, the teams will be active Monday through Friday, 11 AM to 7 PM, in our central district because the data tells us that that is where our highest need is and we hope to grow from there. Eventually we will grow geographically, as well as into the overnight hours, but we look forward to this year of innovation and learning that will better inform our program and our needs.
CARES is designed to serve as an additional available resource for non-violent behavioral health emergencies that occur in our community. We will still need our dedicated Mental Health officers and others at MPD who partner with Journey Mental Health in a co-responder model which works to resolve dangerous situations safely. I want to thank Chief Barnes for being here today to lend support and thank him for the help and expertise of Sgt. Sarah Shimko, who leads the Mental Health Unit, and Captain Matt Tye of Community Outreach who have backed this innovation from day one.
In addition to those speaking here today, I want to thank others on the core team that have strategized about this for months, including Assistant Chief for Medical Affairs Che Stedman, Mary Bottari, Rueben Sanon and Niamh McPartlin from my office, Eleanor Anderson from the City data team, Dane County’s mental health services team including Todd Campbell, Carrie Simon, Hannah Whaley, and our friends at Journey Mental Health, including Hannah Flanagan, Sarah Hendrickson, and Tanya Letman-Shue.
I want to welcome Paco Bonnin, Mark Norton, Grace Falk, and Shequila Galvez to the team.This cross-government, cross-agency collaboration is a model we can build on as we look to a future where we will need additional supports from the entire community -- including a diversity of medical and mental health services providers -- to create the wrap around services that will ensure our CARES van has success.
I would be remiss if I did not thank Alder Arvina Martin who began the conversation with Chief Davis from which this initiative has blossomed and the entire Common Council which has been supportive of this effort.
And of course we honor those who in their time of need did not have this service. For them we are proud to make this lasting change today.