NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — A newer program in Newport News is working to help those with mental or behavioral health illnesses through emergencies.
Last July, the Newport News Fire Department launched the Community Assistance Response (CARES) program, where crisis counselors and paramedics work as a team to respond to 911 calls.
“A call goes into dispatch, someone calls 911 and simply states [the issue] like they would for any other emergency. A CARE unit is dispatched along with a police officer,” said Lt. Andre Dorsey, who is in charge of the Community Paramedic Department.
The goal is to help minimize the police response for calls that go out, but Dorsey says officers still assist for safety measures.
The team responds without lights and sirens as well as without uniforms to help calm situations.
Since their launch seven months ago, Dorsey says they’ve received just a little over 400 calls.
“I’d say roughly two to three calls a day. Sometimes, obviously like the regular police department, that volume of calls goes up and sometimes it goes down,” he said. ” Did I expect them to have the amount of calls they have in less than a year’s time? No. No.”
Dorsey says they’re partnered with Riverside Regional Medical Center and many of their calls are for help to send those going through a crisis to the center for treatment or evaluation.
The changes come at a time when many across the country are talking about mental health. Dorsey says public safety organizations must adjust.
“Any public safety organization has to be mindful of that and change with the times like anything else. This is just another tool in our toolbox to assist the public moving forward. We have other initiatives forth coming as well from the fire department, but overall it’s been received very well from the members of the community, to City Council, to the department as well as working with the police department,” he said.
Dorsey says currently four people are qualified to work with the team and they are planning to add more positions so the team can also respond to incidents at night.