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A nagging question, a search for help, or just basic curiosity can all be addressed by the team of people staffing the Lincoln County Call Center.

Since late March, this resource has been available to those with questions or concerns related to COVID-19. It is available by calling 541-265-0621.

In the early days of coronavirus response, Lincoln County Public Health tasked staff members with new responsibilities and Shelley Paeth took on the challenge to stand up a call center that could respond to citizen inquiries.

Shifting her attention from her work as program manager at Lincoln County Maternal Child Health, Paeth initially launched the call center with help from her staff and volunteers from the Newport Public Library, Lincoln County Behavioral Health, the Toledo Police Department and Oregon State University Extension.

“It was great for me to see the strength and abilities of all these people and know that they are helping our community,” Paeth said.

Today, the call center is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. The Newport location is staffed by 10 individuals, many of whom are bilingual. Paeth has returned her focus to Maternal Child Health and CM Hall, a Newport City Council member, has taken on the role as call center manager for Lincoln County.

Lauren Seager, a recent graduate of Oregon State University who lives in Lincoln City, has been on the phone since the beginning.

“A lot of the calls are just people needing reassurance,” she explained. “They may be worried about whether or not they can go somewhere, or they are worried about a family member. We are getting a lot of calls from people asking where they can get tested, and a lot of questions about where they can get face coverings and whether they have to wear them,” she added.

Seager, who majored in public health, said she has also heard from several business owners who are focused on doing all they can to keep everyone safe.

“They call in asking ‘where can I get resources’ and ‘how can I keep my employees safe?’ I really like getting those calls. It’s very reassuring,” she remarked.

Siletz-area resident Lori Comstock normally works in Maternal Child Health, but one day a week she can be found answering calls. She has been part of the center from the beginning and has had to stay up-to-date on issues that have evolved over time.

“Information can change from moment to moment, so we try to make sure callers get the most current information. If they are able, we encourage callers to check out the Lincoln County website. There is a lot of information so if they are overwhelmed, they can certainly call us,” Comstock said.

Fernando Garza, of Lincoln City, said his big message would be to encourage people to call. One of several Spanish-speaking team members, Garza wants to reassure people that language will not be a barrier.

“Feel free to call. There is no shame in calling. If you don’t know something – call,” he said. “I know in my culture, there tends to be a lot who will say they don’t have the communication abilities. I say who cares. Go to that door and kick it open,” Garza urges.

Newport’s Beatriz Botello recalled communicating with one household where she was able to overcome the language barrier.

“The person spoke Mam but there was a Spanish speaker in the home. We talked about the disease and whether people were wearing masks. They expressed the need to work and I gave them some information about financial support in the community and connected them in different ways,” Botello explained.

Sometimes call center operators act as guides or coaches on how to navigate what is a complicated situation for many people.

“We will tell people what they should say when they call for an appointment. I tell them ‘if you call and they answer in English and you speak Spanish or Mam, just say you speak Mam and don’t give up. Stay there and don’t hang up,’” Botello said, explaining that local health facilities are set-up to connect to interpreters by phone.

The exact specifics of each call may be different but there is one constant that makes the call center a real asset to the local response, according to Hall.

“There is so much information and there are only a few truly reliable sources. When people think of their county health department, they know it will be people who are authoritative and have calming, reassuring, fact-based information,” she said.

The Lincoln County Call Center can be reached at 541-265-0621. Questions may also be emailed to LincolnCoCallCenter@co.lincoln.or.us.

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