211 health and human services hotline system to expand beyond Lake County

An effort to expand the 211 health and human services information and referral hotline system beyond Lake County to other suburbs and parts of the state is underway with an injection of $1.8 million in new funding.

The Illinois 211 board this week announced the allocation in the state's fiscal year 2023 budget to expand the 24-hour confidential service.

The funding would allow the board to hire an executive director and take other steps to expand to full state coverage by 2024, according to Kristi Long, chair of the Illinois 211 board and president and CEO of United Way of Lake County.

The free service connects people in need to a range of health and human services, such as food assistance, help paying bills, or mental health resources.

More than 96% of the U.S. population is served by the 211 system, but less than 36% of Illinois residents have access, Long said.

United Way, in partnership with Lake County and dozens of community contributors, launched 211 in September 2019.

Long said the seed for a larger system was planted early.

"Our eye was in Lake County, but at our kickoff meeting, state Senator Melinda Bush said, 'I want to help you make this a statewide program,'" she said.

In February, Lake County 211 reported it had fielded more than 125,000 combined calls, texts and online requests since its inception. The top need was housing and shelter. Others sought access to food, health care, mental health services and addiction recovery resources.

"We've spent the last about nine months working on a strategy plan to bring 211 statewide," Long said. "Many more lives will be improved and saved through this expansion."

The plan is to expand coverage through accredited call centers, which employ trained specialists to identify root causes of issues and guide people to resources.

Currently there are four call centers serving parts of Illinois: Lake County; Bloomington, which services Champaign, Springfield and related areas; Omaha, Nebraska, which provides service to Rockford; and St. Louis, which serves the East St. Louis area.

Long said Will County will be launching 211 next month, and Cook and DuPage counties anticipate launching later this year. Call centers won't be needed in every county, she said.

Determining the limits of current coverage and how best to fill gaps is part of the process.

The new funding will allow the 211 board to hire technology staffers to build a statewide resource database for services in every county, develop unified ways for all centers to extract, report and analyze needs, and identify gaps in services. It also will help existing centers adapt to an evolving 211 system and align with statewide standards.

"With this funding, we can provide Illinoisans all across the state with easy access to the resources they need," Bush said in a news release.

Lake County to launch 211 system to connect residents with essential services

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211 system has fielded 100,000 requests for help

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