The Missoula Fire Department and Partnership Health Center recently formed a partnership aimed at diverting people with behavioral health issues away from jail and hospital emergency rooms.

They named the pilot program Missoula Collaborating for Access to Resources and Emotional Support, or CARES for short.

Program Development Manager Terry Kendrick provided details of the long-awaited program.

“The CARES Units, the mobile support teams are units that will respond to behavioral health concerns in the community,” said Kendrick. “Sometimes these calls come through 911 and what the person may need is a behavioral health specialist to help de-escalate the crisis and assess what the person needs and then maybe direct them to the appropriate resources even at that particular time or follow up the next day.”

Kendrick said the 9-1-1 Dispatch Center personnel have been special trained to help triage the calls.

Initially, law enforcement will go to the scene and they will then ensure that the scene is safe enough for the mobile support team and then law enforcement will call the mobile support team to the scene.

“They have been working with fire and law enforcement to determine what kinds of calls might be dispatched to the mobile support team,” she said. “Initially, law enforcement will go to the scene and they will then ensure that the scene is safe enough for the mobile support team and then law enforcement will call the mobile support team to the scene.”

Kendrick said there are two separate teams available to respond to mental health situations.

“There are two teams, and so each unit will have two staff members,” she said. “So they'll have an EMT that will be able to do some medical assessments on the scene and a behavioral health specialist with a van that will have radio equipment to be able to communicate with 911 and with law enforcement, but it's not going to have the same kind of equipment that you would have in an ambulance.”

Kendrick said that a behavioral health call may have ongoing issues, and the team is prepared to handle such cases.

“One of the services that the mobile support team provides is follow up to the person who may have experienced a behavioral health crisis, so that our case facilitator can follow up the next day,” she said. “If the person said they did want a referral or wanted to go to a particular resource, that our case facilitator will follow up and make sure that they get to the resource that they need.”

A press release from the city states:

The goal of this program is to provide the right care in the right setting to people

experiencing behavioral health emergencies. The program aims to decrease arrests

and emergency room visits by stabilizing people experiencing behavioral health crises

in the least restrictive settings and connecting them to the services they need.’