by Melinda Palma M.D., PGY-1
Sorry, not Ghostbusters. Not even 411.
Angelenos can call 211 to get information and connections to critical resources.
Since the early 1980s, Los Angeles has had a unique program called, “211 LACounty.” This non-profit organization connects people to social services and community resources. They can be reached by phone at 2-1-1 or on the web at www.211la.org.
Callers can tell the specially trained staff what they need. Then, almost instantly they get connected to help. The list of available services includes shelters, health care, early childhood programs, substance abuse programs, veterans’ services, food programs and much more.
211 LACounty services are free, confidential and available 24/7. Callers can get help in their own languages. More than140 languages are offered, including services for the hearing impaired.
The 2-1-1-resource line is funded by LA County, The United Way, First 5 LA and private donors. They receive nearly 500,000 calls per year: 70,000 for emergency shelter, 80,000 for food assistance and 85,000 for help with health care. Other frequent calls are for information about jobs, help for veterans and transportation services.
The callers are diverse; 44% identify themselves as Hispanic/Latino/Mexican American, 34% as African American, 12% as Caucasian and 4% as multi-racial. Most callers (85%) have incomes less than $2,000/month and 50% earn less than $1,000/month.
Nearly 44% of patients at Harbor-UCLA live at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. That is defined as annual income of $48,500 for a family of four. Thus, many of our families could benefit from 211’s help. Unfortunately, few are familiar with program. That’s where we can make a difference. Teaching families about 211 can easily be discussed at office visits.
In pediatrics, we actively advocate for our patients – and advocacy includes promoting the well being of our families. We can use 211 LACounty to help families find resources for almost anything, from free housing advice to food pantries. It is hard to be healthy if you don’t have a place to live or food to eat.
Many people do not know where to turn for help, especially in times of distress or health crisis. For others, it’s difficult to navigate through the paper work. Fortunately, 211 LACounty can help callers cut through the “red tape.”
In addition, 211 LACounty can identify individuals that need help, even when they didn’t know they needed it. One example is developmental screening for children. The 211 staff asks callers with children younger than 5 years if they are willing to answer questions about their child’s development. If the caller agrees, personnel ask about the child’s development using validated tools, such as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers-Revised (M-CHAT-R™). Parents are given immediate results. If needed, referrals for formal developmental testing happen in real-time. The 211 staff arranges a conference call between the parents and a service agency, such as Regional Center. Of the parents asked, 70% agree to participate. Of those screened, 53% have children identified as moderate to high risk for a developmental problem.
Other special services include help for families who are homeless or at-risk for becoming homeless. Family Solutions Systems (FSS) linked through 211 LACounty, sets up callers with temporary housing. FSS acts as a central point for dealing with housing issues, employment, mental health care, childcare and ultimately finding permanent housing.
Financial guidance is also available through 211 LACounty. Staff can determine if callers are eligible for help with utilities or phone lines (home or cell) through California LifeLine Program. Low-cost Internet access may be arranged through California Emerging Technology Fund. Qualifying families can also receive transportation vouchers and assistance with public transportation. All of these services are especially important for families with members who are medically fragile.
That’s the 411 on 211 – it’s a great resource!
Now, who ya gonna call?