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Gloria Walters and Alicia Arnold take calls at the regional call center of the Senior LinkAge Line. Submitted photo.
Gloria Walters and Alicia Arnold take calls at the regional call center of the Senior LinkAge Line. Submitted photo.

Minnesota LinkAge Line connects seniors

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Two Harbors Minnesota 109 Waterfront Dr. 55616

Phones are ringing off the hook at Minnesota's senior helpline, thanks to an expansion of services.

The state's Senior LinkAge Line helped more than 100,000 seniors in 2012, a 20 percent increase from last year, and officials hope to keep expanding the service.

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The free service, offered through the Minnesota Board of Aging and the Minnesota Department of Human Services, seeks to answer questions seniors have about anything from planning for retirement or finding an organization to volunteer with, to choosing a Medicare plan or finding ways to reduce prescription drug costs.

"We're a one-stop shop for Minnesota seniors," said Marjori Bottila, the contact center coordinator at Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging (AAAA) in Duluth.

AAAA handles calls for the seven-county Arrowhead region of northern Minnesota, including Lake County, and Bottila says seniors appreciate that their calls stay local.

"That's the beauty of the way it's set up," she said.

There are six call centers located throughout Minnesota. Calls are directed to the nearest location, although they are sometimes rerouted to other centers if all lines at the local center are busy.

Services are also available in person at AAAA's office, located at 221 W. First Street in Duluth, and employees and volunteers also travel to the Iron Range and other towns in the region to provide in-person service.

The LinkAge Line is designed to be a "one-stop shop" for Minnesota seniors, offering assistance with virtually any question. The state legislature has been supportive of the service, providing funding and passing a law in July 2011 that requires seniors to call the line for consultation before signing a lease or moving into an assisted living facility.

"The One Stop Shop gives older Minnesotans a better way to navigate state government, helping them live full and productive lives, and making Minnesota a better place for us all," Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon, a Duluth native, said in a statement.

Prettner Solon successfully lobbied for the legislation that expanded the LinkAge Line's services. The line was established in the early 1990s, but previously handled only health insurance and long-term care related questions.

Bottila said the organization now receives a lot of calls related to Medicare and health insurance, transportation and long-term care. There is also a referral system in place for questions that cannot be handled by the service. For example, seniors with legal questions are referred to senior legal aid organizations.

AAAA also provides other educational resources, including informational classes about fighting fraud, surfing the Internet and age sensitivity.

Future plans including helping seniors find employment opportunities, a service that is scheduled to begin late this year.

"I believe that's going to be the trend, people are going to be staying in the workforce," Bottila said. "Some of it may be the economy, but they also want to and need to stay in the workforce. They have a lot of knowledge and we can't fill all those spots. We're just not having as many children today."

The Senior LinkAge Line is available by calling 1-800-333-2433. Services are also available for both in-state and out-of-state seniors online at http://mnhelp.info.

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