The city of Winston-Salem recently hired a leader for a new team that will respond to certain emergency calls. 

The group is called the BEAR Team, which stands for Behavioral Evaluation and Response. Kristin Ryan will lead crisis counselors who will respond to non-violent mental health calls. The seven-member BEAR Team is a pilot program, funded by money from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Ryan says the goal is to help reduce 911 calls, emergency room visits, and unnecessary arrests of those with mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as provide access to wraparound services for people in need.

Every member of the team will have mental health training, a corresponding degree, and additional training out in the community.

“It is one thing to know psychiatric disorders and treatment regimens and providers; it's another thing to have an engagement ability and the ability to help and assist with problem-solving and engaging individuals when they are at their worst or where they are having their hardest time,” she says. 

The counselors will be posted at fire departments throughout the city with a high volume of mental health calls. Ryan says there’s a process to decipher who should be dispatched.

“So the communication center will have a screening tool that will help to ask some of those questions about the individual's environment in the situations that they're in to ensure that the team is responding to safe locations.” 

A critical aspect of the BEAR Team’s work will not only be engaging an individual during a crisis, but following up with them to ensure they’re connected to the right resources afterward. According to a press release, the team should be ready to respond to calls by April.  

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