COVID-19 drove up calls to SD’s 211 Helpline

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — People have been phoning South Dakota’s 211 Helpline Center much more often the past few months because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since March the non-profit’s staff handled thousands of more calls for services — roughly double the pace from a year ago.

Two of the management updated the state Behavioral Health Advisory Council on Wednesday.

CEO Janet Kittams explained the 211 system is now available statewide. It started in 2001. 

Becky Schuster is the center’s vice president of program development. She said the center received 35,905 contacts from March through June. Last year those four months saw 18,680.

“Our role has changed a lot since March,” Schuster said, referring to when COVID-19 was first found in South Dakota.

The Legislature provided full funding that took the program to all 66 counties starting July 1. Last year lawmakers ordered state government pay half the cost for any county willing to fund the rest.

The center helps every caller by searching its database of some 5,000 groups and organizations that provide services for a person in a crisis or disaster, or needing help from social services, human services, legal assistance, financial assistance, mental health, physical health or substance abuse.

Several council members said they’ve called 211 and received important help and advice. Every person who calls gets a followup call back, to see how they are doing.

The center also operates the suicide crisis hotline for South Dakota. Schuster said 211 callers don’t tie up 911 emergency lines that law enforcement uses.

Callers often have multiple needs, according to Schuster. In the first six months this year those included 13,860 looking for help on health care, 12,313 seeking food and meals, and 11,616 wanting advice on housing.

“There’s a lot of need, a lot of people calling,” Schuster said. “I think we’re just going to see a new level of normal as we progress through this pandemic.” 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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