Last updated: June 01. 2013 8:43AM - 828 Views
James Howell
Staff writer

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Where do people turn during a mental health crisis, or for information about human service agencies like legal aid or child care?

It’s easy. Just dial 2-1-1.

Three short months ago, the 2-1-1 service, a universal telephone number for health and human services, became available for Ashe County residents. Since then, 2-1-1 has been utilized on several occasions to transfer callers to appropriate agencies to meet their human services needs.

“People are starting to use 2-1-1 more. It is steadily increasing,” said Glenda Luther, Ashe County’s volunteer coordinator, also serves as the data entry manager for 2-1-1 in Ashe County. Luther also said the number of people who use 2-1-1 should increase with the release of new marketing materials.

“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 Luther.

Much like 9-1-1, the emergency number to call for help, 2-1-1 is a free confidential service available 24/7 to speakers of all languages. Callers will be able to receive help for a number of human service agencies, like housing, food, shelter, child care, mental health services, legal aid and a variety of other services.

As database manager, Luther is responsible for adding local agencies into North Carolina’s 2-1-1 database.

When a caller uses 2-1-1, they are initially sent to referral specialists at a call center in Durham.

With local agencies added to the 2-1-1 database, operators at the Durham call center can transfer callers in Ashe County to whatever agency is best equipped to handle the caller’s situation. Since 2-1-1 uses a statewide database, callers from Ashe can be transferred to services outside of the county.

Thanks to a grant provided by Blue Cross Blue Shield to United Way, 2-1-1 will launch a new marketing effort, including simplified graphics and in-depth information, sometime in May.

According to Luther, the new marketing materials will include brochures and cards, will be placed in various offices throughout the county, like medical offices, the library and Ashe Services for Aging.

“We’re really excited about having a lot of those marketing materials in Spanish,” said Lynda McDaniel, chair of the social services board.

She said the Spanish material will be distributed in several places throughout the county, like Spanish-speaking churches and markets.

“I’m very optimistic,” said McDaniel, “the more people hear about 2-1-1, the more likely they are to call.”

McDaniel was instrumental in bringing the 2-1-1 service to Ashe County. While McDaniel was employed by the state of North Carolina, she attempted to establish 2-1-1 as a statewide service.

“I thought this was the type of service we needed statewide,” she said.

According to McDaniel, 2-1-1 addresses one of four county needs found in the 2008 Ashe County Aging Plan, a report compiled by an independent committee made up of senior care specialists, to advise county leaders about services needed in Ashe. The 2-1-1 service resolved the county’s “information and assistance” need, which recommended a service referral program. Other needs highlighted in the report included housing, transportation and family care support.

McDaniel called 2-1-1 a “cost-effective service” because of its broad reach and at a cost of only $1,200 per year.

“It’s a really big bang for the buck,” said McDaniel. “Even in really rough economic times, no county that has ever started 2-1-1 has ever stopped using it.”

The 2-1-1 service is made low cost through what McDaniel called “economies of scale”; using a statewide call center instead of a call center operated in Ashe County.

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