H1N1 information available at 211

MONTEREY PARK, Calif. L.A. County's 211 disaster hotline handles 2,100 calls a day. They take in call about brushfires, earthquakes and floods.

These days many calls are about basic needs, such as housing, employment and food services. But since summer break ended and kids went back to school, 35 percent of calls are from people who are concerned about the H1N1 virus.

"People have a lot of questions about what to do if they think they are infected," said 211 Chief Operating Officer Amy Latzer. "They ask where they can go to get a vaccine. They also ask if their kids should go to school if someone in their class had the infection."

"We are a 24-hour service. When people need help we are here," said 211 operator Yolanda Villasenior.

Villasenior has been handling county hotline calls for more than 10 years. She has never heard so many desperate people.

"When they hear about flu and disease they get a little bit scared," said Villasenior.

This year the 65 operators will handle more than 600,000 calls. Each person on the hotline has been trained by the L.A. County Department of Health to answer almost any question that comes up.

"We have all the frequently asked questions and answers here," said Latzer. "Those answers have been provided to us by health professionals. We will not give advice. Your medical advice needs to come from your physician."

While they can't give specific medical advice they can help disseminate important information.

"Our staff here is very compassionate and empathetic," said Latzer. "They know people need the information and the referrals and someone who is going to listen with a real kind heart."

211 operators say that the wait times to get through are longer than usual. They say the busiest time to call is from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Eighty-five percent of California counties have a 211 system.

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