New information hotline implemented in Indiana County
Indiana County officials hope to make a newly-activated phone line as familiar to county residents as 911 for emergencies or 411 for potholes.
At their regular meeting on Wednesday, the Indiana County Commissioners announced that the new 211 human services helpline is up and running and ready to assist county callers.
According to Maureen Pounds, assistant director of the county Department of Human Services, calling the number will put an individual through to a live operator who will listen to the issue at hand and connect the caller with the appropriate health or human service agency in the county. The free 24-hour confidential phone service is augmented by a searchable database.
“We're just excited about it and we're hoping that the county residents take advantage,” Pounds said.
The 211 number was federally designated in 2000 as the number to use for information referral and non-emergency health and human service needs. A state-wide collaborative effort to implement the number began in 2006. In the summer of 2011, PA 211 Southwest, based in Allegheny County, was launched and now serves 11 counties including Indiana County.
Pounds said there are close to 200 agencies and services in the Indiana County 211 database, covering everything from food and utilities to taxes and care for the elderly. It can also be a source for those looking for a job or a volunteer site, or even people who want information on local summer camps.
“They have all of our data that we've provided from our county in their system, and I'm checking that to make sure that it's accurate and that they have the information that they need,” said Pounds after the meeting. “There's always a lot of changes with agencies and services, especially with funding cuts.”
“Every family in Indiana County now will have a number which they can call if they have a need of services and just don't know where else to draw that support from,” Commissioner Rodney Ruddock said after the meeting. “When you start looking at a listing of agencies in a telephone book, it gets confusing, and often times people aren't able to determine what is best for them. The 211 call will provide a support team that will then engage and provide direction for that individual to move forward to get their issue taken care of.”
Susan Sapko, executive director of the United Way of Indiana County, said the organization's board of directors voted to fund the 211 system for the county for three years at a cost of $10,000 per year, though it did receive a first-year match of $5,000 from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
She said reviews of the system will be held periodically.
According to Ruddock, once that initial three-year period is over, the system's call volume and impact will be evaluated
Sapko said the system will allow the department of human services to access the system to make updates. The operators are trained weekly on new county information.
The system can also be accessed to receive reports to find out priority concerns and needs in the county.
“Rather than relying on surveys and so forth, we can find out what the actual needs are within this county. and that's going to help a great deal when we decide where the funding needs to go in the next few years of funding cycles,” Sapko said.
Commissioner Patricia Evanko noted that the system will alleviate some of the load taken on by the county's 911 switchboard, which often fields non-emergency calls from residents in need of a resource.
The PA 211 Southwest operators, also called “research navigators,” are trained to take calls and be able to ascertain which service available in Indiana County would best fit the caller's needs. This could include difficult situations — personal crises such as suicidal thoughts or extreme depression, or cases of abuse.
“If there is a crisis, and it's 3 a.m., they won't just give you a number to call,” Sapko said. “If it's a crisis, they will transfer you to the hotline that is here in Indiana County.”
Putting his cell phone on speaker mode, Ruddock made a test call during the meeting to PA 211 Southwest and found it in good working order.
“This is a very important move in Indiana County,” Ruddock said. “There's been a lot of work that's been done behind the scenes to get us to where we are today, and through the United Way's initiative and through our human services team, they have finally come up with a concept plan that I think is very workable.
“It's a great way of doing business. We as county commissioners are excited about it.”
Much of Wednesday's meeting dealt with Indiana County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) matters. Those included recognition of Linda Artman as the new county 911 coordinator, filling a position left vacant by the resignation of former coordinator Gary Ryan.
According to Indiana County EMA Director Tom Stutzman, Artman has been working with the county for over 20 years in various positions. She most recently has served as the quality assurance supervisor at the 911 center, reviewing all incoming calls and radio transmissions to ensure that employees are operating under county guidelines.
“Linda is very familiar with what the coordinator's position entails,” Stutzman said. “The nice thing is that, through her years of service, she's very well acquainted with all of the internal operations that we have going on at 911.”
The commissioners were asked to sign a letter officially recognizing Artman in this capacity so that she can begin the certification process through the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA).
Several appointments were made to Indiana County's local emergency planning committee (LEPC), representing various organizations and agencies: Rick Byerly, Indiana Fire Association; Dennis Rolls, County Fire Chiefs Association; Danny Sacco, Indiana County EMS; Randy Thomas, Citizens' Ambulance Service; Tom Stutzman, Indiana County EMA; Bill Otto, Renda Broadcasting; Jon J. Pina, community representative; and John Mulroy, facility owner/operator of the Homer City Generating Station.
All of the appointees are existing members of the LEPC whose terms expire this year.
The commissioners also approved a contract for the county EMA with J.H. Consulting, LLC, which will conduct a commodity flow study for the county, The $5,200 cost of the study will be paid for by the LEPC.
Danny Sacco, elected chair of the LEPC, noted that the study will be conducted in various locations starting next month. The contract is renewed every other year.
Three memorandums of understanding (MOUs) were approved by the commissioners, —one of them with T&S Safety Consulting Services, which will conduct a public safety HAZMAT response capability audit, which surveys the county's public safety services, equipment, and personnel and training levels. The county was last audited two years ago.
“This gives us a pretty good idea of the equipment and resources we have available, in addition to the county hazardous materials team and the emergency management team,” Sacco said. “It also gives us a benchmark of where we're at in terms of training compliance. Our compliance was not that good two years ago. We have initiated, through the LEPC, some training opportunities at the (Indiana County) Public Safety Academy, making hazardous materials training, if it's done at the academy, at no charge to all public safety services. That, so far this year, has been going very, very well. Attendance is up, so we're hoping to see an improvement there.”
The contract for the audit totals $4,000.
An MOU also was approved with Salsgiver, Inc., providing a plot of ground at the EMA headquarters on Haven Drive for a shelter to be installed that will house Salsgiver's equipment. The company is providing the fiber optics connectivity for public safety radio tower upgrades.
Ruddock noted that Salsgiver has the ability to extend communications from those lines into homes as agreements are worked out with area municipalities. Ruddock indicated that anyone interested in fiber optic connectivity for their home or business should contact Salsgiver directly through the company website, www.salsgiver.com.
An MOU between the county and the American Red Cross reflects the recent absorption of the organization's local chapter by the Western Pennsylvania Region of the American Red Cross.
In other business, the commissioners authorized the county tax assessment office to contract with Pictometry International Corp. to update current geographic information systems for the county as well as to aid in the upcoming reassessment project.
Two contracts with Pictometry for aerial mapping were approved — one for a single flight contract not to exceed $139,108, and a second for two flights not to exceed $245,167.
Ruddock noted that they are hoping to get the first flyover in soon since all of the leaves are off the trees, providing a clearer view.
The county planning and development office had a few matters to bring before the commissioners, starting with a change order for a contract with M and B Services. The contract amount is decreasing by $65,012.38, to $1,023,088.01, which reflects the final adjustment of actual installed quantities on a segment of the Downtown Indiana Revitalization Project.
A contract award and change order were also approved for the Parkhill Apartments rehabilitation tin Burrell Township hat is using a portion of the county's 2010 Community Development Block Grant funding.
The commissioners agreed to a $218,375 contract with BCS Construction of Altoona for work to be done at the low-income apartment complex in Josephine that includes six buildings, each with two rental units. Planned work includes replacing the main roof and the front and rear porches, coil stocking the windows and installing soffit and fascia.
An additional change order for that same project cancelled roof replacements on four of those apartment units. That will decrease the total contract with BCS by $32,600, to $185,775, in order to meet the project budget.
The commissioners also approved a multi-municipal planning grant with the Local Governing Academy in the amount of $15,000. The money will be used to prepare a plan for the Indiana Community University District, identifying economic development strategies, housing and neighborhood preservation, transportation and parking, public safety and amenities.
The commissioners will next meet at 10:30 a.m. March 13.
Gina DelFavero is a staff writer for Trib total Media. She can be reached at 724-459-6100 ext. 2915 or email@example.com.