Call Center staff ready for whatever waits on the other end of the line

Thursday, October 31, 2013

November 16 is National Information and Referral Day

Staff members in COA's call center

Each year, Congress and the President designate November 16 as National Information and Referral Day.  This day recognizes the critical role community-based I&R organizations play in connecting residents to services and supports that can best meet their unique needs.  

When you work in Council on Aging’s Call Center, you never know what you’ll get when you answer the phone.  It could be someone asking about eligibility for an in-home care program; an out-of-town caregiver looking for local senior housing options; or an older adult enrolling in Medicare for the first time with no idea where to start.  Believe it or not, those calls are among the more routine or straight-forward of the 25,000 or so that come into COA’s Call Center each year. 

Many times, the calls aren’t so routine.  Tears, sadness, anger and frustration are common when caregivers have reached their breaking point or a senior adult is about to be evicted from their home.  It’s the job of our Call Center staff to calmly and compassionately assess each situation and connect individuals to services and resources that can help them.

Connecting people to community-based services and supports is one of the primary responsibilities of an Area Agency on Aging (COA is the Area Agency on Aging for Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties).  COA’s Call Center is part of our Aging and Disability Resource Connections Department, which serves as the "front door" to services and information for older adults, adults with disabilities and caregivers.

The demand for information and services has grown in recent years. Requests for help and information come in by phone, through our website and even through our actual front door.  To keep up with this demand and continue to provide a high level of service, COA has worked to develop a Call Center that can serve people beyond our own programs, connecting them with other community services and organizations to best meet their unique needs.

Work toward this goal included:

  1. obtaining certification from the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS), a professional credentialing association which focuses on standards and best practices for Information and Referral (I&R) providers in the US and Canada;
  2. working with other community organizations to establish a local Aging and Disability Resources Network (ADRN); and
  3. using technology to improve our connections with the community, such as improvements to our phone system and implementing a chat feature on our website.  

Call Center specialists are AIRS certified with a specialization in aging. This means they have passed a nationally accredited examination and are receiving continuing education to maintain their certification.  This certification helps prepare the specialists for whatever might be on the other end of the line when they pick up the phone. 

“Our Call Center brings people and services together. When people don't know where to turn, we are there for them,” said Theresa Bracher, manager of COA’s Aging and Disability Resource Connections Department. “Our AIRS certification is a testimonial to this.”

COA is also part of a regional Aging and Disability Resources Network (ADRN). ADRNs recognize that people access long-term care services and supports in many different ways, through many different organizations. Through training and partnerships with other organizations in the region, COA staff can use a “warm hand-off” to directly connect callers to agencies that can help them. This saves callers the time and frustration of repeating their stories over and over again to different agencies until someone can help them.

“Being part of an ADRN is important because it streamlines the process for anyone who calls into the system,” Bracher said.  “As an ADRN, we don’t just pass along information to callers; we connect callers to the agency that can best meet their needs.”

Recently, when a tearful man reached one of our Call Center specialists, he was so distressed the specialist could barely get yes or no answers out of him.  Through continued tears, it became clear that the caller was having a mental health crisis. The specialist was able to get the caller’s permission to contact a local mental health mobile crisis team. With the caller still on the phone, the specialist connected the man with a mental health professional who was able to further assess his needs and schedule a same-day home visit where it was discovered he had not been taking his medication properly.  Our specialist also made a referral for a home care assessment. 

Though they are not all this critical, calls like this serve as an example of how the combination of AIRS certification and ADRN designation has resulted in a Call Center that is both compassionate and responsive to callers’ needs. 

Need help?  To talk with someone directly, contact our Call Center at 513-721-1025, 800-252-0155 or send us a message.  Call Center specialists are available Monday -- Friday, 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.