A concerned neighbour is speaking out about 911 delays after his 95-year-old neighbour spent nearly six hours on the floor of his Vancouver apartment building, waiting for an ambulance.
Walter Muller said he heard Bob Reid’s cries for help on Tuesday afternoon, as did several others in Sunset Towers on Haro Street. They called for an ambulance multiple times, he added, but “there was no response.”
The neighbours were able to move Reid into the hallway, but Muller said it was close to six hours before an ambulance could take Reid to St. Paul’s Hospital, just two kilometres away.
“He was lucid, he was angry a little bit,” he said, describing Reid’s spirits during the wait. “I don’t think he was able to go to the washroom, so it was a very degrading terrible situation to be in at any age.”
In a written statement, BC Emergency Health Services confirmed it received a 911 call for Reid at 3:28 p.m. on Tuesday. Paramedics arrived at 9:16 p.m. and “transported the patient in stable condition to the hospital.”
Last year, BCEHS said it was hiring more than 600 additional full-time paramedics across the province, along with new dispatchers, to help improve services across the province.
Many B.C. residents have complained about 911 delays in recent months, particularly for ambulance services.
To help mitigate the backlog on its end of the system, last month, E-Comm announced a temporary policy change allowing its operators to hang up on callers waiting for an ambulance, rather than stay on the line until they’re connected to BCEHS.
The change would free up dispatchers to take other calls that may be more urgent, according to E-Comm, and its operators would only hang up on a caller if they deemed it safe to do so.
E-Comm was not immediately able to confirm whether that happened during calls in Reid’s case.
In a written statement, it said its 911 service levels have improved since the new policy was implemented on Dec. 1, 2021.
“For the month of December, the average time it took callers to connect with one of our 911 call takers was approximately three seconds,” wrote spokesperson Jasmine Bradley.
“That being said, both E-Comm and BCEHS are carefully monitoring call-answer times and will continue to revisit the need for having this measure in place on a monthly basis.”
E-Comm’s policy change was heavily criticized by the union representing more than 500 of its 911 operators, IT and support professionals.
CUPE Local 8911 was concerned some calls could slip through the cracks or operators would not be able to convey vital information to BC EHS if a patient’s condition changed after they hung up.
Muller said he’s aware of staff shortages and backlog issues in the 911 system, but didn’t realize “things had broken down to the degree that it would take six hours to be picked up within six blocks of a hospital.”
Several ambulances whizzed by on Georgia Street, he added, while Reid lay on the floor waiting for help.
“For an older man, at his age, 95 years old, it will always be stuck in his memory,” he told Global News. “One of the last memories he’s going to have is of that event.”
Muller said Reid has abrasions and bruises from his fall and remains at St. Paul’s Hospital.