A program in Winston-Salem that acts as an emergency responder to non-violent mental health, domestic disputes and substance calls is getting a boost. The Behavioral Evaluation And Response Team began in 2023 and will receive $700,000 to expand its services.

Since its launch last May, the BEAR Team has responded to more than 2,000 emergency calls in the city. Currently the 24 hour, seven-days-a-week service is carried out by six crisis counselors and a director, relieving law enforcement and other first responders from those 911 calls.

BEAR Director Kristin Ryan says until now they’ve used what she calls "very creative scheduling" and an on-call system to cover all 168 hours each week. She says the recently approved federal government funds will help.

"We are very compassionate about serving the citizens of Winston-Salem, and we knew that we could strengthen this," says Ryan. "So, we’re just thrilled that first we were given the opportunity to start this team and to give these responses, being recognized within the community as a need, and now to be able to really do it at an adequate and sufficient level is a really good feeling."

The funds will be used to hire four more crisis counselors bringing the total to 11. They’re stationed at the five fire departments throughout the city that receive the highest volume of mental health calls.

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