British Columbia’s emergency medical system faced renewed scrutiny Thursday, amid “extensive” delays for people calling 911.
E-Comm, the agency that runs B.C.’s 911 call centres, took to Twitter multiple times throughout the day to alert callers to the backlogs.
“We’re seeing consistent delays on 911 this AM as our call takers are tied up transferring calls to ambulance. If you hear a recorded message, we need you to stay on the line,” the service posted around 11 a.m.
Two hours later, it posted a second message warning delays were also mounting on the police non-emergency lines as staff prioritized emergency calls.
By 4:30 p.m., E-Comm said callers to 911 were still experiencing “intermittent wait times” which were “expected to last throughout the evening.”
E-Comm spokesperson Kalia Butler told Global News the backlog was being caused by holdups in transferring calls for emergency medical help to the ambulance service.
“When a caller calls 911 and is asking for the ambulance, that call is immediately transferred to BC Emergency Health Services,” she said.
“We have seen some extensive delays in transferring those calls over to BCEHS, and of course that means that our 911 call takers, who do wait on the line with 911 callers, are unable to disconnect and go ahead and answer that next 911 call in the queue.”
Global News reached out to both BCEHS and the Provincial Health Services Authority, its parent health authority, to ask about the reason for those delays but did not receive a reply.
Butler said the delays in connecting to ambulance dispatch have been “increasing steadily” in recent months.
“They are consistent and unfortunately they do persist,” she said.
It’s not the first time Global News has reported on delays in connecting 911 operators to the ambulance service.
Back in May, amid another concerning spike in ambulance delays, multiple sources told Global News on one particularly bad day it was taking ambulance dispatchers up to 10 minutes to take calls from an E-Comm operator.
Asked about the issue Thursday, Premier John Horgan said the ongoing twin health crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and opioid drug crisis had put an “extraordinary strain on front-line workers.”
“It’s not acceptable to the minister of health, it’s not acceptable to British Columbians,” Horgan said, pledging Health Minister Adrian Dix would have more to say on a solution in the days to come.
The province has pledged to hire hundreds of additional paramedics, and in July announced an overhaul of the ambulance service in the wake of a heat wave that left hundreds dead.
In the meantime, Butler said it was critical that anyone calling 911 who got a recorded message stay on the line and not hang up.
Hanging up and re-dialing or calling from a second phone only serves to further tie up the lines and exacerbate delays, she said.