SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — The phones have been ringing off the hook at the 211 Helpline Center since the start of the pandemic. Our Capitol News Bureau Reporter Bob Mercer first reported on Wednesday that calls to the non-profit call center have doubled since March. The Helpline Center has hired more people as the call volume shows no signs of slowing down.
The Helpline Center is often the first point of contact for people with COVID-19 questions and concerns. The Helpline Center staff will direct callers where to get the help they need to deal with the pandemic. But much of their work also involves lending a sympathetic ear, and a reassuring voice.
“We listen to those fears, we listen to the anxiety and we help them kind of work through that,” Senior Helpline Specialist Chelsea Schmidt said.
The Helpline Center has added additional staff, both full-time and part-time, to help ease the workload with so many more calls coming in.
“We saw an initial large spike in the month of April and we’ve come down a little from that. But we’ve continued to stay at a high call volume the past three months,” Helpline Center CEO Janet Kittams said.
On July first, the Helpline Center expanded to handle calls from throughout the entire state of South Dakota. That wider outreach will likely keep the call volume steady through the rest of summer and into the fall.
“We’re certainly appreciative of that because we know that people in all areas of the state need reassurance, need support and need services,” Kittams said.
Early on, 211 calls started with questions about the virus and its symptoms, and then shifted to which services are available for help and now people are asking about keeping kids safe at school. But whatever the coronavirus question, the staff will be ready with an answer, no matter the number of calls.
The Helpline Center will also also ask people facing anxiety over the coronavirus if they’d like a follow up call.
You can also text or email the Helpline Center