In first 6.5 months, Madison’s CARES Team responds to nearly 250 mental health calls, expands to cover whole city

MADISON, Wis. — Members of Madison’s Community Alternative Response for Emergency Services program responded to nearly 250 calls in the program’s first 6.5 months, Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway’s office said Tuesday.

In a report, the mayor’s office said the CARES Team, which is made up of community paramedics and crisis workers, responded to 246 nonviolent mental health emergency calls between September 1, 2021, and March 11, 2022. Calls involving violence or the potential of violence are still sent to the Madison Police Department.

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After a limited launch based out of Fire Station 3 focused on the city’s downtown, the program has since expanded to cover the entire city based on availability, according to the report. The teams operate during peak hours from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. After declining for the first few months of the program, monthly call volumes have steadily increased since November.

The report also provided a snapshot of where the team is responding to the most calls and who makes up its patients. A majority — 63% — of calls were in the city’s central district, followed by 11% each for the east and north districts.

Just over half of the patients were male; two-thirds were white and 14% were Black or African American. The largest age range of patients was 25-34 at 22%, followed by the 35-44 age range at 19% and 45-54-year-olds at 14%.

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According to the report, nearly two-thirds of patients had been previously served by Journey Mental Health, 18% were previously served by the CARES Team and 19% were experiencing homelessness.

Rhodes-Conway called the initial analysis of the program “very positive,” adding there is plenty of room for future growth.

“We started out relatively cautiously, making sure that everything was going to work, that the teams were going to work well together, that we had the equipment that we needed and we’ve worked all of that out and it became apparent relatively quickly that they could extend the geography that they were covering,” she said.

Looking ahead, the mayor’s office said the program plans to add an additional team later this year and is also experimenting with having responders use lights and sirens to help them respond faster.

Further review of the program could also help expand the types of calls CARES Team members respond to, freeing up officers to respond to more pressing issues like criminal offenses and traffic crashes as a secondary benefit, Rhodes-Conway added.

As for funding, the mayor said she expects to have a “robust discussion” about the program’s expansion during the city’s next budget process.

“I do think it’s a win-win for our community to really beef up this response, the CARES response, because I think it’s going to save us money ultimately and it’s going to be providing a better service for our community,” she said.