Linda Brinkley, 2-1-1 data manager with the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County, takes a 2-1-1 call in the organization's call center. Residents and Yancey and Mitchell counties will soon have access to the service, advocates say. Photo courtesy of the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County.

Access to community-service information to expand in WNC

About 85 percent of North Carolinians have access to 2-1-1, according to the United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. 2-1-1 is a free phone-based service that aims to match people seeking advice and information concerning human service, health and other needs with the government agencies and nonprofit organizations that can help.

For residents in Mitchell and Yancey counties, that service has not been available, but advocates hope to change that later this fall.

Amy Sheele, executive director of Graham Children’s Health Services, has been working with Healthy Yancey to get the service up and running. One of the community partnership’s goals is making health information more available for its rural community as access to such information isn’t always as easy as it might seem.

“Sometimes it is confusing to find resources or contact information, even in our small communities,” Sheele said. “Often agencies do not have websites or they are not up to date. We hope this will be a convenient way to connect people in our communities with services they are seeking.”

2-1-1 could provide a one-stop resource to help eliminate some of that confusion, but the effort is not without challenges.

An organization must agree to pay the yearly fee of $2,500 that will both grant Yancey and Mitchell counties access to the 2-1-1 information database and provide people to handle those calls. Blue Ridge Regional Hospital has agreed to shoulder that cost.

Sheele said other difficulties in setting up the service in a rural area are often being under-served by agencies in tandem with, more frequently, the community not knowing the services offered by nonprofit and government organizations around them.

“I think it is difficult for folks to figure out what services exist and where to access them,” she said. “Services are constantly changing and it is hard to get the word out.”

“In rural communities, we often hear that people are reluctant to have to ask for help,” said Rachael Nygaard, 2-1-1 director for United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County. “So when they face new challenges, such as becoming caregivers for their parents or being diagnosed with a medical condition, people often don’t know where to start.”

This is where 2-1-1 service for Yancey and Mitchell counties will beef up efforts already underway by Healthy Yancey.

According to Sheele: “Healthy Yancey has spent a lot of time over the years creating various directories because of community requests for them. For example, we have a food distribution guide, mental health services directory, substance abuse resource guide and a medical resources guide. So, the implementation of 2-1-1 will eliminate the need for these resource guides because people will finally have one place to call for this information.”

Sheele said calls will be routed to a 2-1-1 call center, most likely in Raleigh, and matched with a local nonprofit. If an organization in the two-county radius cannot provide a service for a resident, the call will then be passed on to the closest available resource, which could be in other neighboring counties or in Asheville if the service only resides there.

She says some services, such as substance abuse treatment options, are not prevalent within her community, so those referrals will be passed along to nonprofits throughout Western North Carolina.

Once 2-1-1 is operational in Yancey and Mitchell counties, the service will be on the verge of representing each of the 18 westernmost counties of Western North Carolina, with service to Polk and Rutherford counties still pending.

If you would like to find out more about how 2-1-1 can help you, or how you can contribute to the nonprofit, click here.

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Dan Hesse is a contributing reporter with Carolina Public Press. Contact him here.

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