City of Chicago Announces Expansion of Alternative 911 Response Program

January 30, 2023

New Opioid Response CARE Team launches today on the West Side; More 911 teams with mental health professionals will launch in the Spring and Summer of 2023 and will serve broader age groups and types of calls

COVID-19 Joint Information Center

CHICAGO – The City of Chicago today announced the launch of a new alternate 911 response team on the West Side of the city and more mental health crisis teams starting this spring and summer, further expanding the City’s innovative Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) program. CARE integrates mental health and substance use professionals into teams that respond to 911 emergency calls when those calls have a mental health or substance use component.

The new Opioid Response Team (ORT) is the City’s first CARE team to focus on Chicagoans who call 911 for substance use or overdose emergencies; prior teams have focused on improving crisis response to mental health emergencies. The ORT started today and is initially working on weekdays in East and West Garfield Park and Humboldt Park, which are the Chicago neighborhoods with the highest number of opioid-related 911 calls. A Chicago Fire Department Community Paramedic and Peer Recovery Specialist from the University of Illinois Chicago Community Outreach Intervention Projects (COIP) will respond together to connect Chicagoans to ongoing substance use care, provide harm reduction resources (like Narcan, the medication to prevent future overdoses), and, most importantly, provide follow-up support in the days after people experience an overdose.
"Since taking office, my administration has integrated mental health and substance use professionals into the 911 response system for the first time in our city’s history through the Crisis Assistance Response and Engagement (CARE) program," said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. "Today's announcement will further expand our CARE teams in 2023 and fulfills our commitment to responding to residents experiencing a crisis with a trauma-informed approach that sends the right personnel at the right time with the right resources." 

The City today also shared its plans to further expand CARE geographically and to broaden minimum age eligibility and the type of calls to which it can respond.

  • In 2023, the City will expand 911 mental health teams into three more sets of neighborhoods with the highest volume of mental health-related 911 calls over the last three years (2020-2022).
    • In March, the City plans to launch a new CARE mental health team in the Loop and Near South Side. 
    • By this summer, the City plans to expand CARE mental health teams to the neighborhoods furthest north -- Rogers Park, West Ridge, and parts of Edgewater -- and furthest south of Chicago -- South Chicago, Avalon Park, Calumet Heights, South Deering, East Side, and Hegewisch.
  • The City has received approval from the state of Illinois to expand the minimum age eligibility down to 12 years old (previously 18 years old) and the range of 911 calls to which CARE teams may respond. 
    • Beginning in March, CARE teams will begin to respond to suicide threats and will be eligible to respond to calls related to well-being checks, criminal trespass, or suspicious person when they involve a mental health component.

The first program of its kind in Illinois, CARE launched its first on-the-ground team in September 2021 and has continued to scale up operations. CARE teams currently work in Auburn-Gresham, Chatham, Chicago Lawn, East Garfield Park, Gage Park, Humboldt Park, Lake View, North Center, Uptown, West Elsdon, West Lawn, West Englewood, and West Garfield Park neighborhoods. In the first 15 months of operations, CARE teams have successfully responded to 539 crisis incidents, with 465 follow up support contacts and zero arrests.

When the CARE team responds to an individual in crisis, they offer de-escalation, mental health assessment, referrals to community services, and transport to community-based destinations as appropriate. The CARE team conducts follow up at 1, 7, and 30 days with all individuals that they encounter.

“The CARE program is an integral part of our approach to bringing behavioral health services beyond the walls of clinics to Chicagoans who need them most,” said CDPH Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. “For too long, mental health emergencies were left solely to police or fire department personnel, along with all their other responsibilities. With CARE, we can put health care at the center of mental health crisis response, to focus on the immediate crisis and also connect individuals to support services to improve their physical and mental health.”

All CARE teams embed behavioral health professionals into 911 response. Some CARE teams pair a mental health professional with a responding paramedic—most appropriate for calls without any threats of violence or weapons. Some CARE teams pair both a mental health professional and a paramedic with a responding Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) police officer—allowing teams to bring crisis mental health resources to a wider range of calls with identified public safety components. Both models are needed in Chicago, and both are being evaluated in the pilot phase of CARE. Future expansion will also look to extend hours of operation.

The CARE Program grew from recommendations provided by local stakeholders on the Mayor’s Chicago Council for Mental Health Equity in October of 2019 that were accepted by Mayor Lightfoot in November of 2019. The project is a joint effort of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), Chicago Fire Department (CFD), Chicago Police Department (CPD), EMS Region 11, the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC), and the Mayor’s Office.

Details about the CARE program and response outcomes are available on the CARE data dashboard.