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2-1-1 may come to county

If the North Carolina United Way president has his way, Lincoln County residents will soon have access to a program designed to help people in need find solutions to their problems.
It’s an easy to remember phone number called 2-1-1 that allows individuals to locate resources they may not even know are at their disposal.
“2-1-1 has made a difference in the places that have the service,” said Jim Morrison, president of the NC United Way, when he spoke at a meeting of the United Way of Lincoln County’s executive committee.
Now a nationwide program, 2-1-1 began in Atlanta around 10 years ago and came here in 2001.
According to Morrison, 65 percent of the country has a 2-1-1 exchange and, by the end of the year, close to that percentage of North Carolinians will have access to the program.
Morrison says the program has traditionally been in high population areas – places that had existing information referral services. Yet that trend seems to be changing as less populated counties like Burke and Madison add the service. With Gaston, Catawba, Mecklenburg and Cabarrus counties already featuring 2-1-1, Morrison hopes Lincoln will be next.
The benefit of 2-1-1 to individuals is obvious; it provides people with easy access to needed health and human services.
Yet the program is also beneficial to the groups that provide such services.
“It gives you extremely valuable information about which services are being asked for,” Morrison said.
According to Morrison, implementing the 2-1-1 program would also reduce the burden on 9-1-1, as people will be less likely to call the emergency number when looking for help of a non-emergency nature.
Yet the program is also useful in times of crisis. When hurricane flooding devastated Buncombe County, calls to 2-1-1 doubled.
“2-1-1 has proven itself very valuable in crisis situations,” said Morrison.
In order for United Way of Lincoln County to bring 2-1-1 to residents, the group must recruit a local sponsor to help with funding, marketing and database updating.
If 2-1-1 does indeed come to Lincoln County, it seems one local entity is ready to step up to the plate when it comes to database creation and maintenance.
Charlotte Lynch of Community Health Partners says her organization – one of 14 networks across the state that provide care for Medicaid recipients – has recently expanded to work with the aged, blind and disabled in Lincoln County. They will now be required to develop a resource directory.
Lynch sees a good fit between what Community Health Partners has to do and what the United Way is trying to do.
“We can be that resource to you,” said Lynch.
According to Morrison, United Way of Lincoln County may have to get creative when it comes to obtaining funding for the program. He suggested hospitals and utility companies as possibilities since 2-1-1 benefits them as well.
The program involves a one-time start-up fee of $4,000-$5,000 and an estimated yearly cost of $10,000-$12,000 for the program in Lincoln. Morrison says the division of funding between the United Way and outside sponsors varies from county to county.
Lowry Hobbs, president of United Way of Lincoln County, says he would like to set up an exploratory committee to study the 2-1-1 program more closely and determine how the program would be funded.
He says that, at least at first, the United Way may act as more of a facilitator than a funding source.
Hobbs would like to see the committee present a recommendation to the executive board within the next two months.
by Allyson Levine

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