With Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono looking on, at left, campaign chairs Carol and Michael May untied a maile lei to dedicate the new 211 call center for the Aloha United Way yesterday. The new service will help people in Hawaii get health-related information.

‘211’ service arrives in isles
to field health-related queries

Officials hope it will help the
elderly, disabled and illiterate

By Pat Gee

Hawaii has become the second state in the nation to establish a "211" number, which will be manned 24 hours a day, to call for health and human services referrals.

The Aloha United Way launched the 211 service in the downtown area yesterday.

AUW President Irving Lauber said the new number would make a "tremendous difference" in helping people "navigate the maze of services" provided by some 1,700 government and private agencies.

The public may be familiar with the service previously called ASK-2000 (or 275-2000), available since 1990, says program director Havinne Anderson. Neighbor islanders could call 1-877-275-6569 toll free. Both numbers are still viable and will be automatically connected to 211 for at least the next six months until people are used to calling the new number, she said.

Seventeen staffers (10 more than they used to have) are providing 24-hour coverage, she said. The service actually went into effect six weeks ago before the official launch, she added.

Lauber credited Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono for "greasing the wheels" of bureaucracy and the expertise of Verizon Hawaii in setting up the service. The number is listed in the first few white pages of the new phone book.

Maj. Kenneth Simmons of the Honolulu Police Department said he was hoping the 211 service will help lessen the number of non-emergency phone calls received by 911 operators. Sixty percent of the 1 million calls each year are non-emergencies.

The new number provides information for things like food pantries, financial aid and rent assistance, and children's health insurance, the three most requested services.

It is also a hotline for a variety of community services, including free immunization and free tax preparation assistance, as well as an emergency number in time of disaster.

Other services include domestic and drug abuse, job placement, child care, summer camp information, and volunteer opportunities.

Lauber said he hoped 211 would help the most vulnerable in the community, for example, the elderly, disabled or those who can't read.

The deaf can access 211 by calling their local Telecommunications Relay Service or through the AUW Web site at Language Translation services can be provided on a case-by-case basis.

Susan Doyle, AUW's vice president of community building, said she anticipated the number of calls to double with the ease of dialing 211 instead of calling a seven-digit or toll free number. The organization receives calls from approximately five percent of Hawaii's estimated 1.2 million residents, she said.

Connecticut was the first state to launch the service, and Lauber said it is expected that every state will soon be hooked up to the number.

Health and human service nonprofit and government agencies can submit or update information online or call 543-2260 for a form.

E-mail to City Desk


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