Senate approves 211 ‘I need help’ phone service for all South Dakota counties

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — People anywhere in South Dakota could dial 211 to get many types of assistance under legislation the state Senate passed Monday.

There are 34 counties that currently have the 211 service. Adding the other 32 counties would cost about $375,000.

The 33-2 vote directs the state Department of Social Services will pay for it. SB 2 now goes to the state House of Representatives for further action.

Senator Jim Stalzer, a Sioux Falls Republican, asked for the bill’s passage. He said more than 4,000 entities willing to help are on a list that’s updated each year.

Situations can range from considering suicide to after-storm cleanup or needing help with rent. Public service announcements could air statewide.

Stalzer said 211 is an easy number for people to remember.

“And the counties are saying they can’t afford to do it,” Stalzer said about those that aren’t yet in the fold.

Senator Deb Soholt, a Sioux Falls Republican, said a suicide hotline serving South Dakota handled more than 2,000 calls last year and about 75 percent of the callers were stabilized while still on the phone. She said South Dakota ranks sixth-highest in the nation for suicide rate.

Every county would be connected through a Sioux Falls center to assistance in their communities or within a reasonable drive, according to Soholt. She described statewide 211 as “a key piece” in a package of eight bills dealing with mental healthcare this year. She said the Joint Committee on Appropriations has cleared the money.

Senator Ryan Maher, an Isabel Republican, questioned Soholt about services in rural areas such as suicide situations where there isn’t local help.

Soholt said three-fourths of the people would be talked down during the call and there’s a check-back 24 hours later. She said there’s also legislation that would make two- to three-day community–based mental healthcare available in more communities.

“For those counties that don’t have it, this would be a great enhancement for those people who have absolutely nothing,” Soholt said.

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 This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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