With Feb. 11 as National 211 Day, Louisiana 211 has much to commemorate. Within the last year, Louisiana 211 has connected more individuals with help and resources than ever before. In fact, since March 2020 when Louisiana 211 was tapped to be the official COVID hotline by the Louisiana Department of Health, 211 usage has skyrocketed — going up more than 220% in 2020, compared to 2019.
- More than 53% of the 290,002 calls in 2020 were from Louisianans seeking COVID-19 information, including mitigation information and testing sites (148,445 calls in total).
- Nearly 20% of the calls were from hurricane survivors seeking storm help (51,880 in total).
- Louisiana 211 provided 358,677 referrals in 2020 (many calls had multiple needs).
- Specialists relied on and connected callers with a network of more than 9,600 human service resources.
- In 2020, more than 93,000 people subscribed to Louisiana 211 key text words for instant replies with guidance from the State of Louisiana as part of the COVID and hurricane response efforts. Citizens can now text LACOVID to 898211 for high demand web links outlining testing and vaccine sites.
From Hello to Help, Louisiana 211 specialists are trained to address the root causes of a caller’s problem – whether it’s food, disaster assistance, crisis counseling, health care or housing. Research shows that without 211, callers can make an average of eight phone calls to different numbers before finding the services they need. Largely funded by United Ways, Louisiana 211 is a free service available to all, aimed at reducing the distance between the needs of Louisianans and solutions that exist within our communities.
“A simple call to 211 is a solid starting point to locate available help — from anywhere in Louisiana,” said Sarah Berthelot, president and CEO of Louisiana Association of United Ways and Louisiana 211 Statewide Disaster and Project lead. “Any one calling 211 from within the geographic boundaries of Louisiana will reach one of three Louisiana 211 contact centers — free, confidential and accessible every minute of every day, including during times of disasters.”
Louisiana citizens can also text their zip code to 898-211 to reach Louisiana 211 via mobile text.
Beyond the pandemic, Louisiana 211 was there for the state when disaster struck through a series of storms — a record-breaking five named storms made landfall in the state, including Laura, a category 4 hurricane ravaged Southwest Louisiana.
“In ordinary times, 211 is a valuable tool for any community. For the City of Lake Charles, however, 2020 was anything but ordinary with a global pandemic and direct hits from back-to-back hurricanes. In these extraordinary times, 211 continues to be an invaluable tool for our community,” said Mayor Nick Hunter of Lake Charles. “We have made significant strides in our recovery, but still have miles to go and we remain grateful that our residents are able to connect with much needed resources through a trusted source like 211.”
National 211 Day was created to recognize the free, user-friendly phone number that serves about 95% of America’s population, including the complete state of Louisiana. Louisiana 211 proudly collaborates with other state 211 systems throughout the US to enhance service delivery and strengthen disaster continuity for services in Louisiana. After Hurricane Laura, 211 organizations from five other states temporarily worked alongside Louisiana 211 to answer the surge of post-landfall calls. The agility of these network partnerships maintain the promise that 211 will answer the call before, during and after the storms, despite unexpected power outages or other post storm challenges.
“The 211 calls coming in each day are a strong indicator of the most pressing concerns and needs of citizens within that moment,” said Berthelot. “Through each stage of the COVID and economic crisis or the tremendous hurricane season, Louisiana 211 has worked to be in an optimal position to be ready for just about any type of non-emergency call.”
To achieve this goal, according to Berthelot, the Louisiana 211 statewide team has worked and continues to work around the clock to update hyper-local and state level information relevant to callers and their needs.
“We stay in close contact with state agencies such as the Louisiana Department of Health and the Department of Children and Family Services so that Louisiana 211 can share accurate guidance for citizens on response efforts,” Berthelot said.
One day after activation for the COVID-19 outbreak in Louisiana, Louisiana 211 launched www.LA211Help.org which published COVID-19 questions and answers curated with the Louisiana Department of Health. Initially, just 20 questions and answers, the compilation now includes more than 200, primarily driven by the curiosities and needs of Louisiana citizens who have dialed 211 to discuss COVID-19.
Since the start of the pandemic, callers have often expressed appreciation or even relief for having the ability to talk to a live agent during this time of uncertainty and evolving information. Berthelot says this sense of gratitude has been especially true from the elderly population or those without WiFi access, now living in higher levels of isolation.
“Time and again, we at LA 211 have worked to give personalized attention to the elderly and vulnerable population, ensuring that they have information to take effective steps, including specific logistics around testing and/or the vaccination processes for COVID-19, as well as pre-landfall evacuation logistics for storms,” Berthelot said.
In 2020, in partnership with the Department of Children and Families Services, Louisiana 211 also launched the LA 211 for Kinship Care to provide specialized help to caregivers of more than 65,000 children living with relatives other than their parents.
“Having a sense of belonging within their family is so important in helping children thrive, but there are often many challenges. Extra support and services may be just what caregivers need,” DCFS Secretary Marketa Garner Walters said. “Louisiana 211 makes it easier for caregivers throughout the state to access the resources they need to bridge the gaps and help these children succeed.”
The Federal Communications Commission approved 211 for nationwide use as a short number July 20, 2000. United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta was the first to introduce a 211 service in 1997. Acadiana-based 232-HELP was the first to secure a 211 dialing code within Louisiana. Today, the Louisiana 211 Statewide Network is composed of 232-HELP, Capital Area United Way, United Way of Central Louisiana, United Way of Northeast Louisiana, United Way of Northwest Louisiana, United Way of Southwest Louisiana, VIA LINK and the Louisiana Association of United Ways.