County Comment: Washington County 2-1-1 Information Line In Service

County Comment
Washington County 2-1-1 Information Line In Service
by Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

Need to know where and when to get flu shots in Washington County? Do you have an aging relative in need of in-home services? These and many other health and human service questions can now be answered by dialing 2-1-1, a new free information line.
In its regular meeting on October 31, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners heard a report on how citizens can get services through that new system. Tom Kline of the Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families (WCCP) and Suzi Borg, of the Mental Health Association of Frederick County reported that the 2-1-1 pilot program began on August 25, 2006, and Washington County is one of only 11 jurisdictions in the State of Maryland participating in the statewide 2- 1-1 pilot.
Borg said that 2-1-1 is an easily remembered 3-digit telephone number that connects people with an information and referral source for important community resources and volunteer opportunities in 41 states. About 65% of the U.S. population has access to the system.
An easily remembered number for this purpose eases citizens' frustration with trying to locate appropriate services without calling several numbers and can reduce the number of inappropriate calls to 9-1-1. During a natural or man-made disaster, 2-1-1 assists in keeping 9-1-1 phone lines open for emergencies only. Borg said this was the case in Connecticut where the system was in place during the national emergency on September 11, 2001.
"The system proved itself again last year during Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana," Borg said, "and is still being used by a lot of the citizens who are trying to locate services, by people that want to volunteer. 2-1-1 was very instrumental in that state, and we saw how very well it worked as a system, because Louisiana was up and functional during Hurricane Katrina and Mississippi was not."
Kline said that WCCP entered into a contract with the Mental Health Association of Frederick County (MHAFC) during the early part of FY 2006. The goal of the project has been to build the MHAFC's infrastructure for the successful participation of Washington County in the 2-1-1 pilot and eventual full-fledged, Statewide 2-1-1 implementation.
The service operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it leverages existing information and referral systems, and the 4 call centers in Maryland have been in existence for over 20 years. Washington County has piggy-backed on the already proven services provided by the Frederick County organization.
"It's not creating a new system, but finding a new way to get to the services that already exist," Borg said.
A fifth Call Center is proposed for Montgomery County, to complete the statewide system, Borg said. Although the five would work together, each center would primarily serve a specific region.
"Regional Centers would have a better understanding of the resources that are needed and the services that are provided, so they can give better service to the local consumer," Borg said.
The WCCP and the MHAFC held a community meeting on October 10th with Washington County community partners, and a statewide news release was disseminated on October 11th officially announcing startup of the service. The MHAFC is encouraging Washington County partners and their respective customers to use 2-1-1.
The United Way of Central Maryland is a major partner in the system and is developing public awareness materials, which will be disseminated to the 2-1-1 pilot regions in the near future.