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Nonprofit to Operate 211 Line

October 17, 2003|Steve Hymon | Times Staff Writer

The California Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to name a San Gabriel nonprofit firm to run Los Angeles County's new 211 phone line, intended to ease the load on 911.

The line, slated to open in 2004, will be run by Info Line of Los Angeles and will steer nonemergency callers to public and private agencies for social and health services. Such calls for assistance sometimes contribute to the flood of nonemergency calls to 911.

Info Line was the only applicant for the 211 line, but in recent months several professional health groups raised questions over whether Info Line was qualified to offer sound advice to callers with medical emergencies.

The PUC commissioners voted 5 to 0 on Thursday in San Francisco to award Info Line the county's contract. Info Line has been working in the area for 22 years and has contracts to offer social service phone-referral lines with the United Way, Los Angeles County and city of Los Angeles.

Callers would decide themselves whether to call 911 or 211.

If 211 is called, said Julio Puchalt, Info Line's associate director, "We make an assessment of every caller and we refer them to the appropriate resources in the community, which may include health services. If during the assessment we recognize that health service is the most pressing or serious, we give that priority."

Puchalt added that in any medical emergency, Info Line would immediately instruct the caller to dial 911.

One group that recently expressed concern with Info Line's application was the California Nurses Assn., which represents more than 50,000 registered nurses in the state.

The group said another phone-referral system in Los Angeles County -- known as NexCare Collaborative -- may have more experience in providing health services because it has registered nurses on its staff.

"We thought there was no harm in being careful and slowing down and scrutinizing both of these organizations and that seemed to make sense to us," said Donna Gerber, the government relations director for the California Nurses Assn.

NexCare did not apply to run the 211 line. Several other groups representing doctors and health facilities also asked for hearings, but those requests were denied.

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