Iowa State Univ. to discontinue service to 211 in 25 counties, providers ask for funds to cover other counties

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 7:54 PM CST
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Iowa State University Extension and Outreach will discontinue 211 services to 25 counties in Northwest Iowa, according to an email our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team received through an open records request.

211 is a phone number used to link people in need to a wide range of resources and services. The hotline is currently operated by four different groups, which could become three when Iowa State University Extension and Outreach discontinues the service in June.

Deann Cook, who is the executive director of United Ways of Iowa, said in an email that covering the other counties while operating with no revenue will create “a strain” on the remaining providers.

She also asked Governor Kim Reynolds to give the hotline $1 Million to help upgrade technology, so it is easier to scale up during emergencies.

“So that when a derecho comes, when a pandemic comes, when lots of people want vaccines, whatever the next thing coming at us is and who knows what that will be,” Cook said. “If we have a strong infrastructure, we’re able to flip the switch and immediately scale up to whatever that need is.”

211 was used during the pandemic to help people, especially those 65-years-old or older without internet access, get COVID-19 vaccine appointments in March 2021. The hotline announced it answered 35,000 calls from people in 99 counties during the pandemic and received a $25,000 donation from the Iowa Credit Union Foundation to support the system in April 2021. It originally expanded after the Flood of 2008 when thousands of people called for help.

Debra Sellers, who is the director of Human Sciences Extension and Outreach and the associate dean in the College of Human Services, said in a written statement it will focus on expanding a similar platform called the Iowa Concern network instead. She wrote the school will continue providing services until other operators are in place to take over the service.

Cook said those operators will likely come from the existing providers, which include United Way of Central Iowa, United Way of the Quad Cities, United Way of the Midlands and Gunderson Health Systems. She said those groups will have to cover more counties with currently no additional resources.

“I think they are currently both working on their plans, which may include additional staffing and those kinds of things,” Cook said. “So of course expenses go up to pick up some additional counties.”

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