‘Other’ Online Resource Databases: Let the Buyer Beware

It has been brought to our attention that many of you are now being approached, by email and over the phone, by several new organizations requesting the same information that you currently provide to King County 2-1-1 for our community resource database. Agencies across King County and Washington state have been trusting us with their resource data for more than 45 years, and we take that responsibility seriously. Currently we maintain a database of nearly 1,700 community, health and social services so we can be prepared to have the best resources available to anyone who calls. We do this as a program of Crisis Clinic, which is a nonprofit agency dedicated to partnering with you to find help for people in need.

According to our national accrediting body, nearly all of these new organizations are private companies formed in order to exploit a ‘new’ market in the gap between the health care system and the social determinants of health with a goal of making a profit by selling resource data to health care organizations. These companies are essentially replicating the resource database work of our existing 211 services across the nation. Our database is maintained according to national standards that stretch back 40 years, and the information is available for free by calling 211 or by visiting our online resource database at 211kingcounty.org. Last year, we fielded over 70,000 requests for help from individuals in need & crisis, and our online database was visited more than 141,000 times by people looking for resources in King County. Our resource staff are in the community – attending coalition meetings, staffing tables at outreach fairs, building the relationships and trust needed to keep the data current. Our call center staff are highly trained, caring and able to assist individuals to navigate through whatever situation they may be experiencing – and that is what sets us apart.

By contrast, most of these new entities are not making their information free across the Internet or via phone because they are focused on acquiring financial contracts with health organizations to provide resources for care coordination services. They need a proprietary resource database in order to achieve this goal. King County 2-1-1, along with all other 211s across the country, is open to working with these companies in order to reduce the duplication of effort. In most cases, the attempt has not been successful. Some of the entities do provide their database online for free, but because they have a national focus, they are not able to respond to the needs of specific communities. And because they aren’t in the community, they aren’t going to know the resources that are available. For instance one organization – Aunt Bertha – lists just nine food pantries serving King County.  King County 2-1-1 lists 69 food pantries.

We hope you do not feel like you have to respond to any of these requests, though you are certainly free to do so. You may want to let them know that you already provide your updates to us, and they are welcome to approach us directly to access that information — because you don’t have the time or resources to handle multiple requests for your information or to pay for something that is already free to the public through 211.