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More people using 211 in Nova Scotia; service gets wide range of inquiries

Suzy Teubner, director of communications and outreach with the 211 Information and Referral Services Association. She was in Yarmouth May 14 for an event put on by the local community health board.
Suzy Teubner, director of communications and outreach with the 211 Information and Referral Services Association. She was in Yarmouth May 14 for an event put on by the local community health board. - Eric Bourque

Six years after it was launched, Nova Scotia’s 211 service continues to get busier, fielding a growing number of inquiries from people.

The figures for 2018 – over 35,000 calls received and more than 325,000 visits to the website – were both all-time highs for 211 in Nova Scotia.

“It is growing every year – website visits certainly more so than phone calls – but both avenues are certainly growing,” said Suzy Teubner, director of communications and outreach with the 211 Information and Referral Services Association.

By calling 211 – a free, confidential service – and explaining what they’re looking for, people can be connected to programs and services offered by local community groups, nonprofits and government departments across the province.

Teubner, who is based in Dartmouth, was in Yarmouth May 14 to make a presentation about 211 during an event organized by the Yarmouth County Community Health Board.

She offered a few examples of information people are looking for when they turn to 211.

“We receive a lot of inquiries (from) people who are looking for food support, people who are looking for home repair programs to make their homes more accessible,” she said.

Generally, the range of things people are contacting them about is pretty wide, she said.

“People who are looking to find homecare,” Teubner said, offering another example. “They want to find out what supports they can put in place, what is the process?”

Or it could be parents looking for recreational programs for their children, perhaps an after-school program of some sort, she said.

The 211 system is available 24 hours a day, all year long, although calls received after-hours, on weekends and during holidays are answered by a service in Toronto.

In Nova Scotia, on typical weekdays, between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., calls to 211 are answered by community resource navigators based in this province, people who, the service’s website says, “are fully trained to deal with the most complex and sensitive questions and how to get to the real issue affecting a caller.”

Part of the idea of the service is to lessen the frustration people may experience when trying to find the right community or social resource.

Organizations also can benefit by having 211 staff handle inquiries that – in the days prior to 211 – the organizations themselves might have had to field, calls that might have taken up valuable time before the caller was finally redirected to the appropriate place.

Nova Scotia’s 211 service is a nonprofit organization that receives funding from the provincial government and from the United Way.

“It was a long process before it even came to fruition,” Teubner said, citing the efforts of the United Way in making the case for a 211 system through presentations to government and other stakeholders.

“Really, the United Way (were) the champions (of 211) long before we even launched,” she said.

The day before her presentation to the Yarmouth County Community Health Board at NSCC Burridge, Teubner spoke in Digby at an event hosted by the community health board there. She previously had spoken about 211 to Clare’s community health board.

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