Hotline numbers allow for easier access to crucial services

  • Jan. 13, 2016 4:18 p.m.

Hotline services are important to our community, because they allow us to easily connect with services with easy-to-recall numbers like 911 and 511.

It is likely that the most recognizable of the hotline numbers is 911. Another popular hotline service is 511, used for checking road conditions. The number 411 has long been used as a phone directory service.

Last year saw the launch of two new services to keep in mind going forward: 811 for HealthLink and 211, referral services presented by United Way.

“The service itself of Healthlink is identical although the number has become simplified. Several other provinces, including B.C. and Saskatchewan, also use 811 for accessing non-urgent healthcare services. This past June, Alberta adopted 811 to maintain consistency for those travelling between provinces,” said Melissa McDougall, site manager of HealthLink Calgary.

“It’s an easier number to remember but the service is exactly the same. You access the selections identical to the toll-free number, but the phone number is much easier to remember than the local zone number. If you’re travelling across the country, that 811 number stays the same. You know that you can dial it and get to the health care services you need.”

HealthLink is an Alberta Health Services program that provides health advice and navigation services for Albertans in non-emergency health issues. Rather than calling 911, a person could call 811 first and see if their symptoms warrant an ambulance or emergency trip, or if self-care at home is the easiest route.

According to the Alberta Health Services web site, 811 is useful in helping to locate services such as immunization clinics, chronic disease management classes, mental health or parenting programs and even family doctors.

“It’s important to be able to access the services where you can then determine what the need is, versus going directly to an emergency department, for example,” McDougall said.

“This way you can speak to a professional and determine if you do or don’t need to go into a facility, and which facility is best. It helps to ease the burden on the health care system but also on families themselves because they’re being directed to the right resource.

“We have a large plethora of online information as well at myhealth.alberta.ca, where people can do some reading about their situation. It helps to get them some additional health information and knowledge for their concern. HealthLink provides the same service as it did before we had the 811 number – all that has changed is this easier number to remember.”

Also, 211 is an important referral service that was launched in the community in March of last year. It is a service provided by the United Way that provides a central database of local services that include but are not limited to mental health services, housing and financial crisis support, refugee support, emergency situation information and other social services.

The primary goal of 211 is to connect a person to local social services in a direct and easy-to-navigate manner.

“The more people who know about 211, the better. A person might not need the service themselves, but it could be a neighbour, a family member, a friend or someone else who may need the service down the road,” said United Way CEO Robert Mitchell.

“From the other perspective, any agencies who think they are not involved and who want to become involved, they can certainly get in touch with United Way and we will add them to the database if they’re eligible.”

Being a relatively new hotline service, Mitchell said he hopes more people become aware of 211 and its applications in the community. He said people call for a wide range of reasons, but he was able to provide some data into top inquiries.

“Unsurprisingly, the top issue that people are asking about lately is income support and employment. It was followed by basic needs searches, and it looks like consumer services and health care followed those requests. Equal to that was mental health and substance abuse services and organizational community services,” he said.

“I still think 211 is quite new to people and we’re really trying to keep up promoting the service. I think there is a little bit of an awareness issue in getting people and organizations to think about how they can use 211.”

An example of how 211 can help is through their crisis support. Currently, 211 is encouraging all community agencies offering refugee services and support to contact them so that their information can be added to the database. Then, people can call 211 and ask about the specific refugee services they require and can be directed to these services in a timely, organized manner.

“We encourage local organizations that are working with refugees to make sure the information about their particular services and programs is up to date on the 211 database,” Mitchell said.

“Then, we can ask people who want information on local Syrian refugee services to ring 211 and our people will have the information at their fingertips to get out.

“We want to get more organizations to think about 211 first. Our resources can handle referral services rather than organizations having to do it themselves.”

kmendonsa@reddeerexpress.com

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