LA's County's 211LA telephone service may be transferred to private-sector management

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ByRob Hayes via KABC logo
Tuesday, August 2, 2022 5:30AM
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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is considering transferring the 211 information hotline for health and social services to a private management firm.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles County's nonprofit "211LA" hotline to health, human and social services is on the verge of being turned over to a private company, pending a vote by the county's Board of Supervisors.

The supervisors are slated to vote Tuesday on whether or not to transfer control of the phone service to Deloitte Consulting, which would get a seven-year, $67.25 million contract to run it. The deal would also include an additional $20 million to help pay for the transfer from its current management.

Dozens of 211LA employees and supporters staged a rally outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration Monday morning, urging the supervisors to shoot down the plan to have a for-profit company run the system.

"We're part of the safety net," said 211LA's Executive Director Maribel Marin. "You can't just replace us like you replace a regular vendor. We are not a regular vendor. We are part of this community."

211LA has been serving county residents for the past 41 years, providing telephone-based information on local programs that span from pandemic assistance, to food resources, to how to safely surrender a baby. Supporters say contracting out to a private company will create a less-efficient service.

"This is a wholesale displacement of a trusted and integrated safety-net provider in favor of the false promise of big tech doing it better and cheaper," said Marin.

Supporters of the current 211LA system say the proposed new service will mean more automation and confusion for callers.

"The people who call 211 will not talk to a compassionate human being," Gilda Valdez, chief of staff for the local S.E.I.U. chapter said. "No. They'll get a recording. That's not acceptable."

The board issued a written statement Monday, saying a reassessment of the 211LA service was "overdue," and that an outside consultant concluded that the county was using "20th century technology to address 21st century social challenges."

The supervisors add that complaints about automation problems are pure misinformation, adding that the Deloitte contract will hire more live agents than are currently employed, reduce the waiting time for callers and offer digital options for people who prefer that mode.

Not all supervisors are onboard with the plan. Supervisor Janice Hahn wrote in a statement, "I share many of the protesters' concerns. 211 is a vitally important service that our residents depend on to get connected to help and information. The organization that has run it for decades is a local non-profit, and I'm hesitant to give this contract to a giant, global, for-profit accounting firm."

If the board chooses to transfer the service to Deloitte's management, it would kick in Jan. 1, 2023.