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2-1-1 hotline helping Michigan seniors book COVID-19 vaccination appointments

More people calling 211 amid the COVID-19 pandemic
Posted at 5:40 PM, Feb 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-15 18:05:18-05

(WXYZ) — United Way for Southeastern Michigan’s 2-1-1 helpline is the go-to resource for community members in need, in times of crisis. They help people find child care, pay utility bills, pay their rent. There is also help for landlords and much more.

The United Way for Southeastern Michigan 2-1-1 hotline served around 500 people a day before the pandemic.

“Around March 13, we started getting 1,000 calls a day, so it doubled,” says Tamara Bolden, the senior director of 2-1-1 operations.

Food, housing and utilities used to be the top requests. Now, 60 percent of their calls are COVID-19-related.

“It’s how do I get a vaccine, am I eligible for a vaccine, where would I go and take a test for the vaccine,” Bolden said.

Especially from seniors not yet lucky enough to get a coveted appointment and struggling to navigate the various websites in search of an appointment.

“They are so lost with all the applications at the various places, trying to put their name on the list,” says Anita Willis a client care specialist answering calls that come in to 2-1-1.

Like a lot of people, she now answers those calls from home.

For some, the frustration and anxiety over not getting a vaccine appointment is compounded by the isolation seniors have been experiencing.

“(They say) thank you for answering the call, it’s so nice to hear someone’s voice and I go ‘Yep! we’re here 24 hours a day 7 days a week,” Willis said.

Many seniors are not as savvy with computers and the internet, so Willis and others at 2-1-1 help make vaccine appointments on their behalf and put seniors on waiting lists when appointments are not available.

The wait and uncertainty is the hardest part.

“I think that’s the thing that’s the most gut-wrenching, I can say, for the community,” Willis said.

2-1-1 has brought on more employees and trained more volunteers to handle the increase in calls but they need more volunteers.

“We’re putting way more resources in and more time and effort in trying to make sure they have an experience where we can reduce their anxiety,” Bolden said.

Whether connecting callers with counseling, food or vaccines, many need reassurance.

“It’s OK. You’re doing everything right. You just have to be patient, vaccines are coming,” Willis said.

If you would like to donate or volunteer go to: https://unitedwaysem.org/. If you need help, call 2-1-1