Posted at 8:55 PM on July 8, 2011
by Madeleine Baran
Who knew a free information service for older adults could get this complicated?
The Senior Linkage Line closed last week due to the shutdown. This week, a North St. Paul agency created a similar hotline to provide temporary help until the regular hotline can get back up and running.
Guess who's staffing the temporary hotline? The same people who answered the phone before the shutdown. But it's a different phone number, and the voicemail message for the now-closed Senior Linkage Line doesn't mention the new hotline.
Confused yet? Here's what happened:
The group, the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging, had a contract with the state to answer the phones for the seven-county metro area. (Other agencies had contracts to answer the phones in the rest of Minnesota.) Executive director Dawn Simonson says her agency has enough money to continue to answer the phones, but that wasn't an option.
The hotline wasn't deemed an "essential service" and was shut down. Before the shutdown, state workers provided logistical help with the phone service and kept a computer database running, Simonson said. Without those workers and a state contract, the hotline was out of luck.
That worried Simonson and others at the agency. "It's well known," she said, "and with it gone, I think older adults don't readily know where to go for the kind of service we provide under the Linkage Line."
So the agency decided to use the same employees to start its phone help line. Staff are available Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to answer questions about in-home services, respite, meals and other food support, transportation, housing, Medicare and other public benefits. They also provide information for caregivers. The number is: 651-251-5762.
The agency can't access their computer database that includes information on more complicated requests from frequent callers. And the state online resource database they relied on has also shut down.
Simonson said other agencies are also providing information over the phone during the shutdown. (A full list is below) Because the temporary number is meant for seven-county metro residents, Simonson said it would be too confusing to include it on the Senior Linkage Line's voicemail message.
If you call the Senior Linkage Line right now, here's what you hear:
Thank you for calling the Senior Linkage Line. If this is an emergency, please hang up and dial 911. Due to the state government shutdown, the Senior Linkage Line is closed and will remain closed for the duration of the shutdown. You may choose to leave a voicemail. However, we do not know when a specialist will be available to return your call. When the Senior Linkage Line service resumes, the specialists will return all voicemails as soon as possible. Should you choose to leave a voicemail, please leave a message after the tone, including your name, number and reason for calling. For more information, please go to www.bereadymn.com.
On Friday, 31 people called the new information line. Simonson said the Senior Linkage Line usually receives 100 to 130 calls a day from the Twin Cities metro area. But she said people are spreading the word about the new number. Callers today reported hearing about the new hotline from insurance companies, websites, Hennepin County workers and the State Attorney General's office.
Aging Services Information Line (651-251-5762) - The phone line is staffed Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It's for people in the seven-county metro area (Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, Scott and Washington counties).
The Disability Linkage Line is also closed, but Simonson said the Metropolitan Center for Independent Living is taking calls to fill the gap during the shutdown. (651-603-2005)
The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Office is open with limited staff to help people with questions related to care and rights in nursing homes. The Department of Human Services' website lists two numbers for the office: 1-800-657-3591 and 651-431-2555.
Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging, Duluth, 800-232-0707 and 218-722-5545
Central Minnesota Council on Aging, St. Cloud, 320-253-9349
Land of the Dancing Sky Area Agency on Aging, Warren, 218-745-6733
Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging, 507-389-8866
Southeastern Minnesota Area Agency on Aging, 507-288-6944
Minnesota Chippewa Tribe Area Agency on Aging, 888-231-7886 and 218-335-8585