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B.C. callers to 911 left facing ‘consistent’ delays for 2nd time this week

An ambulance speeds to an emergency call in Vancouver, B.C. on Thursday, October 1, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Bayne Stanley

British Columbia’s 911 call centre has gone public warning of “consistent” wait times to connect with an emergency operator for the second time in a week.

E-Comm took to Twitter overnight, urging people not to hang up if they got a recorded message during the delays.

Read more: B.C. 911 callers left facing ‘extensive’ delays on Thursday

The delays began about midnight and lasted throughout the early morning hours, according to E-Comm spokesperson Kaila Butler.

On average, people were waiting about a minute and a half to get an operator, though some people waited “quite a bit longer,” she said.

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As was the case earlier this week, the wait times were a result of E-Comm operators facing delays as they tried to connect with ambulance dispatchers.

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“When that is occurring, our 911 call taker does stay on the line with the caller to ensure that call is successfully transferred,” she said.

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“What that means, of course, is that that poll taker is tied up with the caller during that transfer process and is unable to answer any number one calls that come in after that.”

Butler wouldn’t speak to how long 911 operators have been left waiting to get through to an ambulance dispatcher, other than to say the delays were “quite extended.”

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Delays connecting to dispatchers were an increasing problem, and have become “consistent and an almost daily occurrence.”

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In a statement, BC Emergency Health Services, which manages ambulance service in B.C., said it had taken “immediate action” to address the situation, “including increasing staffing levels on the floor to assist with call taking.”

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“Our dispatchers and emergency medical call takers are working hard during challenging periods and through the peak volumes to respond to people’s needs,” the statement reads.

The agency is also hiring for 30 new dispatch positions, which are expected to be filled by December, it said.

On Thursday, B.C. Premier John Horgan described the 911 call wait times as “not acceptable,” pledging Health Minister Adrian Dix would have more to say on a solution in the days to come.

In July, the province overhauled BC Emergency Health Services in the wake of widespread criticism of its response to an unprecedented and deadly heat wave, including appointing a new chief ambulance officer.

The province has also pledged to hire hundreds of new paramedics and add 85 new full-time paramedic positions.

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