PLATTSBURGH - The North Country will soon have one number to dial for health and human service providers in Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties.
John C. Bernardi, executive director of the United Way of Clinton and Essex Counties, stated a regional 2-1-1 telephone system is expected to be launched this May after more than two years of planning and development.
Bernardi, who serves as chairman of a steering committee established by the United Way, said various models and prototypes of programs have been examined in that time. After careful planning and consideration, the committee has decided to contract with an existing call center in the Hudson Valley region to develop and operate the service.
"This is by far the most cost-effective and efficient way to bring this service to our region," said Bernardi.
The annual operating cost of the system is approximately $85,000, said Bernardi. That amount is a fraction of the estimated $350,000-$500,000 cost the committee found it would take to establish and operate a new call center here, he added.
"We didn't feel that was going to be an efficient way to bring the service to our region," said Bernardi, "given the population of the region and the anticipated volume of calls."
The cost of planning and developing the system was funded by a combination of local in-kind resources and through 2-1-1 New York, the organization which facilitates the implementation of 2-1-1 systems. The overall cost to operate the system will be funded through a combination of public-private partnerships such as the United Way, major gifts and endowments and state funding.
"The future of state funding is certainly uncertain, but we felt we needed to move forward," said Bernardi. "We've made considerable progress and we felt that we needed to overcome the doom and gloom, so to speak, and plow forward and get this done for the people in the region."
Bernardi added because the model is so cost-effective and considerably less expensive than operating a call center locally, the steering committee is confident it will be able to sustain the system once in operation.
The 2-1-1 service - which will operate similar to that of a 9-1-1 emergency or 4-1-1 information system - will allow callers to dial the simple, three-digit number at no cost to reach a central call center where an operator would be standing by 24 hours a day. The operator will then be able to refer the caller to the appropriate service.
Childcare services, mental health services, food pantries or government assistance programs are among the services people could be connected with, said Bernardi.
"We have a wonderful system of health and human service providers in our region, but at times it's very difficult for people to find out where they can go and how they can access the services they need," he said. "This 2-1-1 system will streamline that process and give them a single, memorable means of accessing that information."
Currently, a database of health and human services is being compiled that will be utilized by 2-1-1 operators.
"It's a great model," said Bernardi. "We're really excited and we think it's going to be a great asset to the region."