HealthLink 811 ringing busy amid huge increase in coronavirus calls

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML.

The B.C. government is struggling to keep up with high call volumes at HealthLink 811.

Many British Columbians have not been able to get through to the dedicated phone line because of increased call volumes.

“British Columbia’s HealthLink 811 line has experienced intermittent busy signals as call volume has increased,” a statement from the Ministry of Health reads.

“We are resolving this by adding more staff, more phone lines and a new menu option to provide a dedicated queue for calls about COVID-19.”

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has recommended British Columbians call 811 if they have COVID-19 symptoms. The nurses on the phone line will not be able to diagnose people with the virus but will be able to provide essential information.

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The province is hoping to have a new call centre up and running soon. The new call centre will focus on non-coronavirus calls, while the existing call centres focus on calls related to the virus.

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus: 8-1-1 Healthlink sees uptick in calls'
Coronavirus: 8-1-1 Healthlink sees uptick in calls

“If you have symptoms, self-isolate, obviously, and call 811,” Dr. Henry said.

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“They can tell you if you’re at risk or not. That’s how we manage it.”

811 is a free provincial health information and advice phone line operated by HealthLink BC. Callers are connected to a health service navigator, who can help callers find health information or connect them directly with a registered nurse, registered dietitian, qualified exercise professional, or pharmacist.

On average the province says it receives about 1,200 calls a day to the health phone line. That has skyrocketed over the past few days, with calls hitting around 3,600 on Monday and more than 4,000 calls on Tuesday.

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The province says there were 3,291 callers Wednesday amidst concerns callers were hearing a busy signal.

“There have been some issues with respect to 811. I want to note that yesterday I said I think we were up to about 3,600 a day. It’s now over 4,000 calls a day, and we’re adding new resources to 811 in order to help address those questions,” Health Minister Adria Dix said on Wednesday.

“We’re asking everyone, of course, who needs support, especially with respiratory conditions, to contact us through 811, or through their primary care provider.”

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