May 18, 2007

Focus On Community:

Who do you call for help? 2-1-1

By Patty Chavez

2-1-1 is the new national dialing code for free, 24-hour community, help and disaster information. It’s a great starting point to not only connect people with important community services; it also offers great information for volunteer opportunities. When you call 2-1-1, a live phone specialist can help connect you to the best nonprofit services or agencies to fit your needs.

Everyone can utilize the service. Business’ can call 2-1-1- to help an employee find drug treatment. Parents, overwhelmed and anxious about locating the best afterschool programs or child care can call 2-1-1 for assistance. Families call 2-1-1 to find appropriate care for their aging parent. There are a multitude of reasons to call: Parenting classes, health screenings, pre- and post-natal nurse visits, speech therapy, shelters and many other free services and programs can be located by one easy number: 2-1-1.

Take for instance the overwhelming feelings of a new parent. Babies don’t come home from the hospital with a personalized manual. And today’s new parents may not have the comfort of having extended family members or grandparents nearby or with extra time to help or offer support. The first baby check-up, which usually lasts 15 minutes, may just not be enough to answer every question. New moms need to take care that “baby blues” do not lead to a more serious postpartum depression. 2-1-1 can connect new parents with services that can help. In our county, 2-1-1 can connect all new parents to a free “house call” from a registered nurse to help with all their questions and concerns in the privacy and comfort of their own home. First 5 San Diego in partnership with local regional service providers, offer these free nurse visits that help with a variety of concerns including breastfeeding, giving baby bath, laying baby down in her own crib, baby check-up, mom health check– at no cost!

2-1-1 can also be used as a central point for disseminating public information. Unfortunately, local and nationwide emergencies have given us reason to be better prepared. According to a report following 9/11, it was stated that charitable organizations took immediate action to get aid to those in need. However families and victims believed they had to navigate through a maze of service providers and there was much confusion.

Launched nationally in 1997, it has already reached more than 196 million people in 41 states. Here in San Diego, our 2-1-1 service began operation in 2005. With a major grant from the First 5 Commission of San Diego and support from partners such as the County of San Diego, San Diego Gas & Electric, and others, 2-1-1 will grow from helping 77,000 to 300,000 callers per year and ultimately have the system requirements to serve San Diego County residents in the event of a disaster.

The health care debate will be a big issue in the 2008 Presidential Elections, but it has been a resonating issue for many families for years. Latinos disproportionately make up about 32% of the 47 million Americans without health insurance. A reason for this can be that many Latinos work for small businesses. Many small businesses cannot provide appropriate healthcare programs for their employees.

While the government debates at an agonizing snail pace for healthcare “reform”, there continues to be successful collaborative community-based organizations and agencies working to provide a variety of services to help where they can. While these programs grow so does the confusion. In working with several of these service organizations, I have found this to be the main obstacle. It can feel like a maze and people often do not know who to call or where to turn.

Recently, Congress re-introduced the Calling for 2-1-1 Act, which, if passed, will provide financial support to help implement, sustain and enhance 2-1-1 in our communities. To help in this effort, contact your Senators and Representatives to support the Calling for 2-1-1 Act.

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