The city of Winston-Salem launched a new program to address non-emergency calls earlier this year. It aims to support beleaguered police and fire departments, and the program is showing results. 

For years, every emergency call to Fire Station 8 in Winston-Salem got a response from a team of firefighters. But many were for repeat utilizers of the 9-1-1 system in need of mental counseling, medication, resolving a domestic dispute or some other non-life-threatening care. That stressed the already strained and shrinking workforce and caused wear and tear on the roughly half-million-dollar firetrucks making multiple non-emergency trips.

The city instituted its Behavioral Evaluation and Response Team (or B.E.A.R.) in May. The group of six crisis counselors is dispatched through the police department’s 9-1-1 system in place of other emergency management teams. It responds to nonviolent crises that involve mental health issues, substance use, and others.

Director Kristin Ryan says they do more than just address the crisis at hand.

"We do a follow-up piece," she says. "So, we will help those individuals connect with their social support to address all their needs, and we do a follow-up visit until they are doing much better and in a safe place."

Ryan and her team work collaboratively with all community providers connecting residents with appropriate services including Medicaid.

"Sometimes individuals aren't getting the care they need directly, because they're not familiar with some of the resources that they can afford," says Ryan. "So you're opening up their accessibility for services, and that's going to improve the resident's ability to access care before it becomes a crisis."

Since beginning operations, B.E.A.R. team members have responded to more than 1,500 calls — not including the additional referrals they often receive from law enforcement and other first responders.

B.E.A.R. operates seven days a week, and 24 hours a day.

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