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County Executive Parisi to Expand Popular Community Mental Health Program, Add Team of Crisis Counselors to 911 Center in 2024 County Budget

September 27, 2023
Ariana Vruwink, 608-267-8823
County Executive

Parisi Seeks to Add 911 Dispatchers Trained on Mental Health Response, Fund Ability of “CARES” to Respond Outside of Madison

The popular CARES mental health response program will be able to expand beyond Madison’s city borders under a key provision in Dane County Executive Joe Parisi’s upcoming 2024 county budget. Parisi is offering $200,000 in county grant funds to communities seeking to partner with the existing CARES program, improving the response to behavioral health emergencies in more parts of the region. Parisi made the announcement at a press conference with Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes Conway today.

“Behavioral health emergencies don’t follow political or municipal borders. This initiative will help more people get the help they need when they need it,” Parisi said. “The Mayor and I have heard from other elected officials in our county that they’re ready to invest in expanding the CARES model to their communities, and these matching funds will help do just that. Teaming together, we can improve front line mental health services and reduce unnecessary law enforcement and emergency room contacts.”

“The Madison CARES program was launched in September of 2021. It has grown slowly but steadily since then, providing high-quality care to our residents in crisis. It could not have happened without the support of County Executive Joe Parisi and Dane County Human Services Behavioral Health Division. They have been a vital partner since day one,” said Mayor Rhodes-Conway. “I am glad that the County Executive is including funds in his budget to make it possible for adjacent communities to access this vital service.”

CARES (Community Alternative Response Emergency Services) was started by the City of Madison as a behavioral health emergency response team. The teams respond to non-violent behavioral health emergencies and are dispatched by the Dane County 911 Center. Parisi’s budget starts a new “Dane County 911 Dispatch Diversion Team,” a group of crisis counselors based in the 911 Center that will work with people who call 911 while experiencing a behavioral health emergency. The budget invests over $400,000 in new county funding for four 911 crisis counselor positions to start the new team. They will initially work weekdays from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. as part of a pilot launch of the brand-new initiative.

“Adding these professionals to our 911 Center will better enable the expansion of CARES by resolving a number of incidents over the phone instead of requiring an in-person response by a mobile crisis team,” Parisi said. “This will allow for a more effective allocation of this incredible resource and help get CARES to more individuals and families in need.”

“We at Dane County Public Safety Communications (PSC) feel fortunate for the 911 Dispatch Diversion Team positions County Executive Parisi has granted us. This additional level of service will enhance our ability to divert behavioral health related calls, at the earliest point, away from traditional first responders when appropriate,” said Luis Bixler, Director of Dane County 911. “The Crisis Call Diversion Team will provide more comprehensive de-escalation efforts and risk assessments, as well as increase our ability to link callers to appropriate community services and efficiently dispatch alternative responders like the city of Madison’s CARES Team.”

A similar model utilized in Tucson, Arizona reduced the need for an in-person response by public safety officials by close to 80%.

“Together these initiatives build upon our countywide commitment to the well-being and safety of those who experience the pain and duress that can result from various behavioral health diagnoses. We know mental health challenges impact those of all ages, from all walks of life, and it’s imperative we continue to prioritize investing in the resources needed to help meet folks where they are at in their time of crisis,” Parisi concluded.

County Executive Parisi will introduce his full 2024 Dane County budget on Monday, October 2nd.