HURON – A $375,000 statewide appropriation to South Dakota counties offering access to the 211 Helpline will assist in covering the increasing cost of a service that not only connects people with local resources, but, perhaps even more importantly, provides mental health support for veterans and those contemplating suicide.
United Way Heartland Region and the city of Huron have partnered to pay the bill for the helpline in Beadle County for the past four or five years.
It’s the first time legislators have allocated state funds for the program.
Incoming United Way Executive Director Jen Bragg and retiring director Rhonda Kludt met with county commissioners Tuesday to ask for their financial support, but also to encourage them to return the voucher for state funding as soon as possible after it arrives in the mail this month.
“That will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis,” Kludt said of state money.
City and county officials have not yet begun drafting their next annual budgets, but the vouchers must be submitted quickly to compete with the other counties for funding.
It will cost $17,000 to continue the 211 Helpline in Beadle County for the next year, with half of that to be raised as a local match and the balance coming from the state.
Last year, United Way contributed $8,000 and the city gave $4,000.
“That was the cost of our total service, but things are going up,” she said.
It will also cost more if additional offerings like texting are added.
Instead of 65 cents per resident, the fee will now be 92 cents per person in the county.
The 211 Helpline Center is located in Sioux Falls.
“It really is fascinating the way they operate,” Kludt said. “They have an electronic board telling the volume of calls coming in and what the answer time is.”
Callers are connected to an operator within six seconds. The center never closes.
“I know that when the call volume is really heavy and the operator staff can’t get to it right away the office personnel jump in so that that wait time is very minimal,” she said.
“And every single person there has a bachelor’s degree and they have all undergone extensive training to be able to deal with the volume of calls,” Kludt said.
“They are very efficient at what they do.”
The center is the official National Suicide Hotline for the state of South Dakota, and has a good relationship with Community Counseling Services and 911 dispatchers in Huron, she said.
Emergency management agencies and residents impacted by disasters like blizzards and flooding have used the center to connect to resources for insurance issues and claims, she said.
Helpline operators assist callers needing assistance with food and clothing, shelters, housing and utilities.
They provide referrals to social services for everyday needs and in times of crisis.
In the first year the 211 Helpline was in place in Beadle County, there were 92 suicide-related calls, Kludt said.
“Granted, a number of those were from the same person; the good thing is that person felt so comfortable talking to the operators at 211 that they would call again instead of taking their life,” she said.
“Getting that statistic, I think, really made our United Way board sit up and take notice, that there is a need and people need someone to talk to,” she said.
Kludt also said the board likes the fact that 211 operators are working well with existing agencies in the Huron community.
She said 211 is offered in the Black Hills area, Hughes-Stanley counties, Brown County, several counties in the Sioux Falls area and the Vermillion and Yankton areas.
“Most of the counties that are served by United Way are covered, with the exception of Davison and Codington,” she said.
“Every state that surrounds South Dakota has entire statewide coverage, and we’re one of just a handful of states that does not at this point,” Kludt said.
“We realize that those counties that are served by United Way have a benefit because the United Way across the country is very much behind this program and encourages United Ways to support 211,” she said.
“So with only 11 United Ways in the state of South Dakota, you can see that there are a number of counties that wouldn’t have the luxury of having funding from a United Way. Every single county that is funded is receiving funding in a different way,” she said.