News : Information Phone Line Launches in Marion County
Marion, FL, Oct 21, 2014 -- The local installation of a national phone service hopes to connect Marion County residents in need of help with community resources.
The United Way of Marion County unveiled the implementation of a 211 phone system, which aims to provide information of public services to the community.
"This allows us to have 24 hours a day, seven days a week, live professionals answering those questions and guide you through the process," Pam Stone, United Way Executive Director, said to the Rotary Club of Marion during a luncheon Tuesday.
"We have high poverty and high teen pregnancy, but we are also blessed with a lot of services and a lot of really good private and public service in Marion County. The problem is information overload."
That information overload is eliminated by the easy-to-remember 211 phone number, Stone said. The three-digit number can be dialed from any landline or cellphone to provide callers access to many local services: from basic human needs and physical health resources to employment support and support for the elderly, youth and disabled.
"People don’t remember that info until they need it," said Roxane Somerlot, director of Marion County Job and Family Services.
The service is similar to 911, which receives emergency service calls in the community. A call center focused on providing information to the community receives all 211 phone calls.
"911 professionals tell us that a huge percentage of calls they get are not necessarily emergent calls," Stone said. "This will allow those professionals to be able to say, ‘Please hang up and dial 211.’ Closing that circuit and keeping those lines available for true emergencies — that’s really what we want to do."
At the Rotary meeting, Stone and United Way officials placed the inaugural phone call to the call center, which is based in Cleveland. The caller asked the center for a place to get adult clothes. In less than three minutes, the operator provided the woman with a few places she could go to within the county to get free clothes. The operator then offered to give more information for other potential needs, including food, shelter and safety.
Although it did not take place in the trial call, Stone said some calls will asked for basic feedback, including age, gender, race, ZIP code and other demographics.
Diane Gatto, assistant director at United Way of Greater Cleveland, said information gathered would be used to show needs of services in the Marion community.
"The gem is the data you get from the system," she said.
In time, and through community feedback, Gatto said the Marion community will generate "a nice repository of needs" through collecting demographics of the callers.
"The important thing to track is the unmet (needs)," she said. "We’re building that database."
Gatto said the phone service has been recently used in Cleveland to help spread information and awareness about the Ebola virus.
Neither Stone nor Gatto shared concern over the distance between the Cleveland-based call center and the facilities in Marion County. The Cleveland call center also runs 211 services for Lawrence, Van Wert and Belmont counties. New services can be added to the call center’s database through the United Way of Marion County.
"I don’t consider this distance," Gatto said, referring to her trip from Cleveland to Marion.
The 211 service was first launched by the United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta in 1997. Today, the service reaches about 270 million people — 90 percent of the U.S. population — and covers all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.
Marion and Wyandot county services were funded through a grant through the United Way of America. By the end of the month, 211 numbers in Crawford and Huron counties also will be available. The service has begun in Union, Delaware, Morrow and 58 other Ohio counties.
Announced by the United Way of Marion County on Tuesday, the 211 phone service now offers around-the-clock, live access to dozens of Marion social and community services, including:
• Basic human needs: Food banks, shelters, rent assistance, utility assistance.
• Physical and mental health resources: Health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare, maternal health, children’s health, medical information phone lines, crisis intervention services, support groups, counseling, drug and alcohol intervention and rehabilitation.
• Employment support: Financial assistance, job training, transportation assistance, educational programs.
• Support for older adults and people with disabilities: Adult day care, Mobile Meals, respite care, home health care, independent living programs.
• Support for children, youth and families: Childcare, after school programs, Head Start, family resource centers, summer camps and recreation programs, mentoring, tutoring, protective services.
• Information on access to government, disaster and other public services.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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