2-1-1 service coming in the spring

A new telephone service coming to Marietta in the spring will allow residents to quickly and easily be connected with vital health and human services.

The United Way of Washington County will be receiving $53,333 in grant funding from CareSource Foundation to set up a local 2-1-1 service.

The 2-1-1 number is used nationally for people looking to find non-emergency services information, said Karen Binkley, director of resources at United Way of Washington County.

“(It could be used) if you want to find out where the closest food pantry is because you need food….Even if you have a kid who is not doing well in school and you want to find somebody who can help them,” said Binkley.

The program is not a directory service like 4-1-1 that looks up directions or restaurant and entertainment information, she stressed.

Washington County will likely roll out its 2-1-1 service in the spring and is currently working on compiling lists of information on relevant area organizations and programs, said Binkley.

Those packets of information will be sent to a call center in Stark County, which United Way has contracted with to handle Washington County’s calls.

“When you call there, they’ll ask for your zip code and then all the information for your area will come up on the computer,” said Binkley.

The organization was able to see a demonstration of the service and Binkley said she was impressed by how efficient it is.

“We had a demonstration where a lot of community people got together and a person called 2-1-1. They said their furnace went out and asked where could they get help and within seconds the person started to give us information. I was amazed at how quickly it worked,” she said.

The service will hopefully cut down on the amount of time people spend trying to get connected with the correct assistance, said Binkley.

It is also designed to keep people from calling 9-1-1 for non-emergencies, said Joyce Mather, executive director of the United Way Alliance of the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“Rather than calling 9-1-1 if you’re out of diapers or formula, you can call 2-1-1 and they can direct you to an agency that can help you,” she said.

Wood County, W.Va., has had access to 2-1-1 service since 2007. Calls made from within Wood County go first to a call center in Weirton, but many are sent back to a volunteer action center right in Parkersburg, said Mather.

Last year 1,403 calls to 2-1-1 were made within Wood County, said Mary Rader, 2-1-1 program coordinator for the Parkersburg volunteer action center.

Programs are broken down by keywords, such as abuse and neglect, clothing, employment, health and medical, transportation or veterans.

Rader estimates she has more than 800 organizations and programs in her referral system. Calls about financial assistance and food assistance are common, she said.

Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks said he is very supportive of the 2-1-1.

Dispatchers who field 9-1-1 calls at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office get a variety of non-emergency calls, he said.

“We’ll get people going down the interstate and asking where the best place to eat in Marietta is, directions to get someplace, motels that are available,” he said.

Mincks said the office probably gets three or four non-emergency calls a day and hopes 2-1-1 access will cut back on that.

The grant will pay for the first two years of contracted service, said Binkley. After that, the United Way hopes local businesses will support the service.

“No money of ours is being paid out to do this and will ever be paid out. We’re not using donation money to pay for any of this,” she said.

Eventually the calls from Washington County will be analyzed to help find whether there are deficiencies in any local programming, said Binkley. For example, if a large number of people are calling for elderly assistance or child care, those needs can be addressed accordingly, she said.