March 25, 2013 - Providing Reassurance What is the first thought that comes to mind when we think of people calling 211? They are phoning to find something specific, a service to help them or someone in their care. Most 211 service providers spend their entire day professionally referring callers to community, social or government and health services that can best help. People can call 211 any time of day and every day of the year and receive a warm live answer from an Information and Referral (I&R) Specialist. These sensitive and qualified specialists are skilled listeners who help the caller with a thoughtful assessment of her or his needs. I&R specialists in many centres themselves speak numerous languages and can access up to 170 languages through an interpreter service.
That is the expected daily benefit of a professional, standards-based 211 service. But when there are major community incidents or challenges, 211 provides a less obvious but very valuable role: providing reassurance. When the lights go out, some people look out into the corridor or walk to the street to see if neighbours are also affected; others start texting friends on their mobiles. But this is not possible for everyone. For example, the senior in a high rise apartment who wonders whether she alone is affected or how she will get out to buy groceries with the elevator not working. How will anyone visit and check on her? Without air- conditioning or heat, will she be able to sustain her health or that of a vulnerable family member?
Recently, André Paradis, the Director of Community Information and Training Services at Findhelp Information Services, the 211 service provider for Central Region (Toronto, York and Durham) wrote a topical article on this very area of concern. It is called Managing Toronto Citywide Health Crises Through 2-1-1 Services and has been published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine (Am J Prev Med 2012;43(6S5):S464–S468). His article focusses on the reassurance that 211 Toronto (at the time) provided to anxious citizens during two significant Ontario events in 2003: the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak; and the Great North-eastern Blackout. The reassurance to callers that was provided by the 211 service de-escalated anxiety and fear by clarifying the media reports and challenging rumours as well as identifying where actual help and information could be found. This also helped to avoid unnecessary use of critical and overburdened services such as 911, nursing staff and hospitals that were fully engaged addressing the crisis. To read the complete article, go to http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2012.08.009
Today, in addition to calling 211, people can look up information for themselves using the website www.211Ontario.ca which provides details including hours of service and eligibility about the 65,000 community and social services in Ontario. Oftentimes, however, that wise voice of compassionate counsel is the best thing that can happen for us in dealing with life’s challenges. Call 211.