James HowellStaff Writerjhowell@civitasmedia.com
February 3, 2013
The universal telephone number to call for assistance in finding valuable health and human services called “2-1-1” launched in Ashe County on Friday, Feb. 1.
“The goal of 2-1-1 is to get callers directed to the resources they need. The service is supposed to pinpoint resources like food, heating assistance and mental health care,” said Glenda Luther, Ashe County’s volunteer coordinator who will operate the local 2-1-1 database.
The 2-1-1 service is a free confidential service and will be available 24/7 to speakers of all languages. Callers will be able to receive help from comprehensively trained referral specialists at a call center in Durham who will identify and route the person to the right resources based on the caller’s particular needs.
Unlike 9-1-1, the emergency number to call for help, 2-1-1 can direct callers to a number of human service agencies, like housing, food, shelter, child care, mental health services, legal aid and dozens of other areas that offer human services.
A call to 2-1-1 can be transferred to 9-1-1 if the referral specialist, after evaluation, learns the situation has escalated, and become an emergency.
The major benefit of running 2-1-1 through the Durham call center is the operators will have the ability to look beyond Ashe County if the caller needs a service not available in Ashe County.
“People getting to appropriate help in a timely manner is the ultimate benefit, but the biggest plus of going through the 2-1-1 system is taking advantage of the economies of scale of a statewide operation,” said Lynda McDaniel, who is the chair of the Social Services Board.
“It would not be cost effective for Ashe County to hire call specialists and translators round the clock to provide this service. Using United Way’s 2-1-1 gives us access to a quality service at a low cost,” said McDaniel.
McDaniel, who was heavily involved in bringing the 2-1-1 service to Ashe County, said she is pleased the project “finally came to fruition.” McDaniel also said she is looking forward to the positive impact of 2-1-1 on mental health in the area.
“As for impact on mental health, 2-1-1 can only get people to services that already exist. So if we don’t have adequate mental health services, 2-1-1 can’t help that situation. But it’s always a help in getting people to the best fit of what’s available, so the impact can only be positive,” said McDaniel.
Funding for the 2-1-1 service was approved by the county commissioners to go to the Department of Social Services for the new service. Another key agency involved in 2-1-1 is Ashe Services for Aging, for whom Luther also works.
The 2-1-1 service is already available to about 80 percent of the North Carolina’s population.
What is 2-1-1?
2-1-1 is an easy to remember, three-digit telephone number that connects people with important community services to meet every day needs and the immediate needs of people in crisis.
There are about 30,000 nonprofits in North Carolina. Finding the one you need can be difficult.
The first step in finding help is knowing who to call: 9-1-1 is for emergencies, 4-1-1 is for directory assistance and 2-1-1 is for finding community health and human service resources.
How is United Way involved with 2-1-1?
United Ways have a long-standing commitment to funding information and referral (I&R) services in their communities.
A 2-1-1 task force submitted an application to the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission for designation of the three-digit number to be used for health and human service information, referral, and volunteer opportunities.
The Commission designated United Way of North Carolina as the “holder” of the 2-1-1 number on Nov. 18, 1999. In 2000, United Way of America was designated as the national holder of the 2-1-1 number.
How does 2-1-1 work?
Callers simply dial 2-1-1 for information on vital local services.
The 2-1-1 service is free, confidential, available 24 hours a day — every day, multilingual and staffed by agents ready to help you find the connection you need. There are a few cell phones that cannot connect to 2-1-1. If that is the case, you can use a toll-free number: 1-888-892-1162.
Any agency that does not have information in the system yet should call Luther at (336) 246-2461, extension 225 to find out how to get their data included. It is very important that all programs be included so the referral specialists can route the callers appropriately.
Ashe County service agencies have been providing information to be included in the system which is operated by United Way through a call center in Durham.