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211 information call line introduced at Ligonier Valley center

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By Peter Turcik
Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
 

The Ligonier Valley Center for Active Adults recently conducted an information session about PA 211 Southwest — a telephone hotline number used to quickly and effectively connect people with human service providers and to community resources.

The United Way of Westmoreland County initiated program was launched in Westmoreland County in July 2011. It is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Norma Mosser aging care manager for Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging described 211 as a “cradle to the grave” number, offering information and connections for a wide variety of topics, such as child services, veteran affairs and tax help for senior citizens.

“I think the United Way is doing a great job with this number,” Mosser said. “Here in Westmoreland County we're very fortunate to have so many agencies. However, getting to the right one is a challenge. That's why having 211 streamline this process will greatly help. It's a win-win for everybody, because it is providing the community with resources and it is also helping to identify where there are gaps and where we need to develop more resources to address the needs of the community.”

According to Mosser, since 211 was adopted in Pennsylvania, the quantity of 1-800 numbers has decreased. This has decreased the need for staffing and increased the amount of money for resources, making them more accessible to the public. Mosser explained that there are 450 toll-free lines in Pennsylvania, and using these numbers, the average caller makes four to seven calls before finding the proper resource.

“If you are in a crisis, you don't have time to make four to seven phone calls. 211 is a streamlined process, so that you get a direct line,” Mosser said. “When you call 211 the phone lines are staffed by trained, certified resource navigators to help you through this system. You get a real live person who listens to what you need and directs you appropriately.”

Additionally, Mosser said local 911 dispatchers have experienced a reduction in calls for non-emergency situations. The callers instead speak to 211 operators who have access to a large database, which is frequently updated with information provided by partner Catholic Charities of Westmoreland County. In December, 211 recorded 120 callers, that number almost quadrupled in January, she said.

“It was really amazing to me that so many people are using the number. It's great that the number is getting out there and the usage is increasing,” Mosser said. “There are so many needs that are out there, 211 is just making it easier access these services. We are hoping that by using 211 people will become very familiar with the resources that are out there and get to the people what they need quicker.”

A hotline website is also available at www.pa211sw.org to enable users to search a database of more than 5,000 human services programs.

Peter Turcik is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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