More Mental Health Emergency Teams Headed To Chicago’s Southside and Why It Works


Chicago’s CARE program has just expanded to another part of the city. Launched in September 2021, the Alternate Crisis Response and Engagement Program (CARE) has added mental health professionals to the staff of the city’s 911 call center. The program established teams of caregivers trained to respond to various mental health emergencies. They work to treat residents in a mental health crisis and find the resources or help they need. This can be placing them in a crisis center, shelter, or another support system.

More on the CARE Teams

Each CARE team now consists of a plainclothes officer trained in crisis intervention, a mental healthcare professional, and a paramedic. The first team to hit the streets covers a territory that includes Uptown, North Center, and Lakeview. The second team launched covers Auburn Gresham and Chatham. The program has just expanded to send a team to the Chicago Lawn, Gage Park, West Elsdon, and West Lawn areas. The city recently enhanced the CARE teams by adding a fire department community paramedic and a mental health clinician to each. The teams are available between 10:30 AM and 4 PM on weekdays.

How It Began

The CARE pilot program came from the City of Chicago 2021 budget process. At the time, city politicians earmarked $3.5 million for the program. The project was pushed forward by a group of city aldermen led by Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez who urged the municipal government to halt the use of armed first responders attending mental health emergencies. She felt a better solution came from investing in mental health response teams, and that they would be more effective than defunding the city’s police department. The idea was not favored at first by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot who preferred a model that included police officers as co-responders. She was eventually convinced to support the hybrid pilot to put both models to the test.

By the Numbers

In 2019 alone, there were over 41,000 calls Chicago police responded to that contained a mental health component. The city fire department responded to an additional 27,000 mental health calls in the same period and 13,000 in the first six months of 2020. The data was revealed during budget hearings and was used to support the development of the pilot project. The numbers also show that there is a need for responders in situations where treatment is not necessarily of an emergency nature. For those seeking help that doesn’t require emergency care, more mental health practices like Geode Health are opening around the city of Chicago.

About The Program

There are three main parts of the CARE program. There is the pre-response, alternate response, and post-response. The way the system works is simple. When a call is received, it is assessed by the city’s 911 call center and the mental health professional. Between them, they determine if resolution can be made over the phone or if a response team should be dispatched. If a dispatch is required, one of the CARE teams is sent to the location the 911 call came from. Follow-up care, through one of many area resources, will be arranged by the CARE team in response to the mental health emergency.

What They Had to Say

The Deputy Commissioner for Behavioral Health at the Chicago Health Department, Matt Richards, says, that some of the mental health emergencies “may require an emergency room visit, but the goal is to provide other resources better situated to serve individual needs.” This includes drug rehab and mental health clinics. According to Rodriguez-Sanchez, “I really want to see a model that is going to move away completely from police response and is going to meet the needs of the people in a way that is compassionate.” The city has created a public dashboard to track various metrics attached to the program. The monitoring system will not only show progress made with the CARE teams, but also provides quarterly updates for city officials.

Final Thoughts

Between the city’s police and fire departments, over 68,000 calls containing a mental health component had responses in 2019. This led to the formation of a pilot program known as CARE teams. The Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement program created teams of three (a plainclothes police officer, a fire department community paramedic, and a mental health professional) to respond to these calls. The success of the pilot project has seen expansion into Chicago’s Southside. With the progress made with this fresh approach to mental health emergencies, chances are that more teams will serve other parts of the city.

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