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CESSA: Community Emergency Services and Support Act


Mobile Response For Mental and Behavioral Health Emergencies

Two people sit on a bench as one consoles the other by touching the other’s shoulder.
Image created by Genevieve Silva

Candace Coleman

Community Organizer – Racial Justice

(312) 640-2128

CESSA – Community Emergency Services and Support Act: HB 5009 and SB 3449

The Problem:

  • 10% of 911 calls request help with a mental or behavioral health emergency.
  • Since Illinois lacks an appropriate response service, 911 can only dispatch law enforcement, leaving responding officers with the dilemma of placing callers in the acute care hospital system or arresting them.
  • 90% of people do not need such an invasive, costly response.
  • Communities that adopted mobile response services reduce the rate of hospitalization and incarceration per emergency, instead providing community based care.

What is CESSA?

CESSA stands for Community Emergency Services and Support Act. It is a bill created by racial justice advocates at Access Living and will soon be introduced to the Illinois General Assembly. CESSA addresses the health needs of people who are not violent and who are not violating the law by sending support instead of police. It expands the reach of current programs operating across the state that have already rejected co-responder models for this population, requiring that such work be coordinated with and accessible through the State’s 911 systems. The mobile response service proposed by CESSA is based on the CAHOOTS model that operates in Eugene, Oregon, and dispatches teams of medics (either a nurse or an EMT) and a crisis worker (who has at least several years of experience in the mental health field) to calls requesting help for mental and behavioral health emergencies. 

ARTICLE: Police Superintendent backs non-police responders connected to 911 – the same system CESSA would create. WBEZ Report, October 29, 2020. Click here to read the full article.

What Would CESSA Do?

If passed by the Illinois State Legislature, CESSA would establish an emergency response option for mental health emergencies, one that does not involve any police or law enforcement. CESSA requires each of the State’s EMS Regions to coordinate a mobile mental and behavioral health service through its 911 provider so that such service is available wherever the region provides ambulance service. Subject to certain minimum service levels, each EMS Region decides the extent to which it will rely on existing service options or encourages additional providers to offer services. CESSA would also:

  • Create a response service for mental and behavioral health emergencies everywhere an ambulance service exists.
  • Require responders to use appropriate de-escalation techniques and then connect callers to their existing care providers or to available community services and supports.
  • Replace costly institutionalization with community based, patient directed care. WBEZ Report, October 28, 2020: Police Superintendent backs non-police responders connected to 911 – the same system CESSA would create. Click here to read the full article.
  • Empower each EMS Region to design regionally appropriate systems.

THIS BILL DOES NOT TRAIN POLICE. CESSA is NOT based on a co-responder model, in which police are accompanied by social workers. The bill aims to avoid any police intervention.

Who Supports CESSA?

CESSA is supported by a wide variety of Chicago nonprofits, mental health professionals, community partners, allies, and elected officials, with more and more supporters signing on all the time. Current supporters include:

  • Access Living
  • ACLU
  • Advancing Your Leadership Power
  • Arc of Illinois
  • Black Lives Matter Chicago
  • C4
  • Chicagoland Autism Connection
  • Chicago Torture Justice Center
  • Family to Family
  • Family Health Center
  • Howard Brown Health Center
  • Mental Health Summit
  • ONE Northside
  • Sinai Health System
  • STOP
  • Senator Robert Peters

Related link: Police Superintendent backs non-police responders connected to 911 – the same system CESSA would create. WBEZ Report, October 29, 2020. Click here to read the full article.

Interested in supporting CESSA? Contact Candace Coleman, Access Living’s Racial Justice community organizer.

How Can I Get Involved?

For CESSA to become state law, we need advocates and allies to ask state legislators to support CESSA and help us raise awareness. Here are a few ways you can lend your voice:

  • Download and share CESSA fact sheets, or share information about CESSA on social media. Use #CESSA2020 with all your posts.
  • Share your own story or testimonial on how CESSA would impact you using #CESSA2020.
  • Download one of the CESSA graphics and use it as your profile pictures.
  • Contact legislators to ask for their support.

Further Reading:

It’s hard to miss the escalating national discussion about the need for mobile non-police emergency options. People want better options and safer communities, and most importantly, to stop deaths and disabling at the hands of police. Here are some recent stories from around the country:

We can’t forget that in many more rural communities, access to any mental health supports may be non-existent. But we have to start with demanding something better for all of us.

Watch a recording of our town hall on CESSA