Georgetown County’s 2-1-1 service, which helps callers locate community health and human service resources, started seven months ago and handled more than 200 calls in February.
Horry County’s 2-1-1 system is being completed and should be fully operational in a few weeks, according to Olivia Garren, president of the United Way of Horry County. “We are actively working with [the United Way Association of South Carolina in] Columbia. We are in the process of inputting information. I cannot tell you when we’ll roll out – it will be soon. We are real excited. It’s a big plus to have.”
Now, calling 2-1-1 on most landlines or cell phones gives callers a voice prompt to “press one” for resources, for example, and five for child care. Timothy M. Ervolina, president of the United Way Association of South Carolina, says “Once 2-1-1 is fully operational in Horry, that will be a huge win – the whole Grand Strand will be live.” Some business phone systems block three-digit calls other than 9-1-1.
Three linked call centers are at the heart of the 2-1-1 system in South Carolina. A 2-1-1 call from Myrtle Beach is routed to the Columbia center and then to the center in Aiken and if necessary to the third center in North Charleston. On a recent Monday, the three centers handled over 5,000 calls.
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Call volume is growing daily, Ervolina says, and he anticipates that the statewide 12-month volume will reach 1 million sometime in May or June. The S.C. 2-1-1 system is a backup for state emergency management, so a fully operational Horry County system has additional importance as hurricane season approaches. Emergency management has very limited staffing because of budget cuts and no longer has an active call center.
The S.C. system started with the Aiken center in 2003. It dates to 1995 when the first 2-1-1 calls were made in Atlanta. Ervolina says 2-1-1 is in place in 90 percent of the United States – and it took 50 years for 9-1-1 to be operating in 90 percent of the country. In most places, 2-1-1 is a United Way initiative. There are exceptions, such as Virginia where the governor’s office manages the system. In Texas, the system is half United Way and half state.
In Georgetown County, nearly a fourth of the February 2-1-1 callers were seeking assistance with utility bills and 17 percent needed emergency shelter. Other services sought included adult day care, child care, mental health and food pantries. Ervolina points out that the calls to 2-1-1 are useful for local community planning – for nonprofits to know community needs. “Calls to 2-1-1 give a pretty good picture … a real-time look at indicators” that guide nonprofits.
The Georgetown County calls asking about where to find help with utility bills reflect an unexpectedly colder winter. Ervolina says the growth of 2-1-1 calls in Georgetown County, from 38 the first month to over 200, is about typical – perhaps a little sooner. “It’s all about health and human services,” says Pat Strickland of the Georgetown County United Way. The 2-1-1 system is tied to the Community Care Network of the Georgetown Hospital System and a variety of medical clinics and nonprofits such as Helping Hand. Folks may call 2-1-1 and find help in locating a primary care physician or a specialist.