Question: What is the advice for seniors who might need help getting through these next few weeks? I am 80 but healthy. I don’t get out much as it is. I live alone. I have a TV and a telephone. I read the paper. I don’t “go online.” I’m stocking up a little at a time, but I wonder if I have enough. It’s difficult to carry a large amount. I’m not sure who to call for help.
Answer: The best number to call is 211, the statewide information and referral line of the Aloha United Way, which is working with the state Department of Health and thousands of other programs and resources during the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in China late last year and is spreading around the globe.
People can call 211 from anywhere in Hawaii, from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week, an expansion of previous hours. The service has the capacity to go 24/7 if necessary, as call volume increases, said Maura Dolormente, AUW spokeswoman.
Those who prefer to reach out online can go to auw211.org, for information and email and text contacts. Kokua Line has received numerous questions from people like you, senior citizens who are independent but isolated, with few family or friends and not connected to a church, social group or agency already alerted to assist. Some callers wanted to know more about the novel coronavirus and how to prepare, while others needed help getting enough supplies to hunker down at home for several weeks — to achieve the virus-thwarting “social distancing” that health officials have advised.
Calling 211 won’t directly fulfill your needs, but the agent who answers will be trained to assess your requests and refer you to a trustworthy program or partner that can help; AUW refers to more than 4,000 vetted programs and services, making it a reliable resource in difficult times.
To be clear, don’t call 211 for urgent health problems; in that case you should call 911 for an emergency response.
We shared concerns we’re hearing from readers — including from senior citizens unable to stock up on canned goods or toilet paper and others agitated by dire health predictions — and were assured that 211 would facilitate assistance. “Our Aloha United Way 211 is the primary call to action for the community, whether the caller needs help or they know of someone else who does. We have caring, local experts who are trained to triage and solve complex problems and really meet people’s needs,” Dolormente said.
While the vast majority of people infected worldwide recover from COVID-19, the threat of severe complications is higher for people over 60 and for people of any age with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease. Throughout Hawaii, folks are looking out for their older family members, friends and neighbors to make sure they have what they need. For kupuna who lack those community ties and may feel isolated and disconnected during this public health crisis, calling 211 offers a friendly ear and a potential lifeline.