The 3-1-1: Taking Phone Calls Has Kept a Lifeline to Residents During Crisis

When the City established its 3-1-1 constituent call center a few years ago, no one could have predicted that it would become a life-line for many in the City struggling to get the correct information, to be comforted and even to get advice.

It is exactly what has transpired over the past two weeks though, said Director Chad Luongo.

“We’ve had everything,” Luongo said on Monday. “People are calling about symptoms they have, wanting to know if they might be sick. Last week I got a call at the Center from someone who wanted advice on whether or not they should cancel their vacation plans. That was before all of the precautions were announced, but I told them I didn’t think they should go. I hope that was helpful. It’s been steady at about 100 to 125 calls per day. Sunday was a little quieter, but that’s really the numbers of calls we’ve taken about every day.”

The 3-1-1 Call Center is located typically at the front desk in City Hall, and serves calls and walk-in questions too. With the walk-in questions gone due to the closure of City Hall for the time being, the calls have been lighting up the switchboard.

The City has expanded the 3-1-1 service, putting six people on per shift Monday through Thursday. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they have two people per shift from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Most of the questions so far have been related to bills and payments that are due during the shutdown of City operations.

“Last week, a lot of the questions were bill questions – how to pay bill when we’re closed,” he said. “We’re telling people to send a check by mail, or put it in the drop box here at City Hall, or especially, to pay online. However, a lot of people pay by cash and right now we’re not open.”

Beyond those kinds of questions, there are usually a flood of calls after most of the daily press conferences, particularly on Monday when Gov. Charlie Baker announced a stay-at-home advisory.

“As soon as something happens like that, we get flooded with calls because people are nervous and worried,” he said. “We relay the information we have and we tell everyone to be calm and reassure them.”

The 3-1-1 has also acted as the central location to get food to people who need it – particularly the senior citizens that are more vulnerable and cannot go out for supplies.

In those cases, they have quickly opened the right channels for Senior Center Director Dale Palma to be able to get the information so his team can deliver fresh, hot meals to the seniors in need.

Other issues tend to be about remotely taking care of things that used to be simple, such as a sticker for items to be put out for the rubbish.

“We have a lot of calls about what people should do to stay health, Coronavirus issues, but other things that are more regular issues,” he said. “Some people call to ask what they need to do to get a sticker to put items out in the trash, as you can only get a sticker at City Hall. We try to get in touch with Capitol Waste if a person needs a sticker. There are just a lot of things that are easy to do when we’re open, but are a little more difficult and involved now.”

Finally, a big part of what 3-1-1 has been doing is getting correct information to people. There is so much misinformation going around on the Internet, the news, in the immigrant communities and through word of mouth. Having a place where reliable information can be shared is important.

“We’re all dealing with a lot of moving parts and we’re trying to make sure everyone is on the same page,” he concluded.

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