The Bellevue Fire Department has seen a 50-percent reduction in frequent 911 callers since the start of its CARES program. Now, volunteer advocates are getting another boost forward with a $30,000 grant from Tri-Med for some new wheels and a King County grant to track its progress.
Started in September 2012, Bellevue Fire Citizen Advocates for Resources and Education Services receive referrals from EMS and police officials of people frequently requiring assistance that goes beyond a 911 call, such as the elderly, disabled or those with mental health issues. The program is staffed primarily with Masters of Social Work practicum students, who are able to log hours finding resources for those in need. CARES mirrors a program started in Spokane several years ago to reduce frequent responses to non-emergency events.
“I think this is a very unique opportunity for social work students because you see people in their homes, and that’s not a very common experience for social work,” said CARES coordinator Natasha Grossman. “In this case, we really get to see their environment.”
Tri-Med Ambulance and Bellevue Fire officials met with Grossman and CARES volunteers Tuesday to celebrate the passing of a large $30,000 check for a new vehicle for the program, the purchase of which Grossman said is being finalized.
“We really stand behind these types of programs and what they do for the community,” said Matt Gau, Tri-Med general manager, adding Kent Regional Fire Authority has a similar program now. “This way they can take a lot of the high utilizers of the 911 system and find them the resources that are needed.”
Megan Mattas, a 29-year-old University of Washington student, said she spent 3 1/2 years working for an area crisis clinic, where she learned about the program. She said the two issues she’s dealt with through CARES the most are mental health/substance abuse problems and caregiving issues.
“I guess sometimes it’s hard to some people who are in need of resources, but knowing you are able to provide resources is the good part,” said Neusha Hejazinia, 24, a CARES volunteer and UW MSW student.
Grossman said CARES has had its first graduate, and another on the way. CARES can accommodate up to six MSW students currently. The results of a yearlong program evaluation that is being funded through a King County Emergency Management Services grant could recommend increasing that number and other improvements once complete.
“I’m hoping it’s going to be good information in general because there are CARES programs popping up around the country,” Grossman said.The Bellevue Fire Department credits Capt. Blaine Singleton with spearheading efforts to get this program started.