Alberta woman, 92, remains in hospital days after her 911 calls were transferred to 811

Click to play video: 'Alberta Health Services defends how 911 calls are assessed'
Alberta Health Services defends how 911 calls are assessed
Alberta Health Services is defending new measures on how call to 911 are assessed, after a family complained to Global News about not getting an ambulance for an elderly woman who is now in hospital. AHS says the changes are meant to free up resources and free up care. Sarah Komadina explains – Feb 6, 2023

Jacqui Bayne’s mom, 92-year-old Barbara Ross, became sick towards the end of January.

Staff at her independent living facility in west Edmonton called 911 for an ambulance, but the ambulance was never dispatched — instead, they were redirected to the 811 Health Link advice service phone line.

“They couldn’t believe it, said, ‘Jacqui, I don’t understand what is happening,'” Bayne said, adding staff were told by Alberta Health Services to take the senior to her family doctor.

Ross did not get better and a few days later, Bayne said the living facility called her again so she went to see her mom and started making calls. Bayne knew her mom needed immediate medical care and called 811 to speak with a nurse.

Bayne said she spent a long time on the phone with various people in the health system, was at one point asked by a doctor to download Zoom for a video call, but in the end was again told to take the Edmonton senior to see her family physician.

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But Bayne could see her mom still needed help, so on Sat. Jan. 28, she looked up AHS emergency department wait times and decided to drive her mom out to the Devon General Hospital, where she said the wait was reportedly shorter than in the city.

Barbara Ross, 92, started became sick at the end of January. Her daughter tried to call 911 for ambulance, but was transferred to 811. Jacqui Bayne

Bayne said they still ended up waiting the whole day for Ross to be admitted. Ross was treated with fluids and released to go home, but her symptoms didn’t improve.

On the following Monday morning staff at the independent living facility were doing their daily checks on all the residents, and Ross wasn’t waking up.

“I received a call from the facility again — they had problems waking her. When I spoke to my mother she said again, ‘Weakness’. I went over there, I said, ‘This is ridiculous. I called 911,” Bayne said.

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It was the second time a call to 911 had been transferred to the help line.

“I said, ‘She’s weak, she’s dehydrated, everything is going through her. She can barely stand, can barely walk,’ and they said, ‘I’m going to switch you over to 811 so they can assess it.’ And 811 decided, ‘Nope, she doesn’t need an ambulance.'”

Bayne said at that time, she was asked to give the phone to her mom and take it off of speaker phone.

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“They asked if she had chest pains, she said yes. They asked if she has some breathing issues, she said yes. She was saying how weak she was, couldn’t walk, couldn’t eat anything and put me back on the phone and basically said to take to her to her (general practitioner),” Bayne said.

Bayne didn’t want to go to a family doctor —she wanted her mom to be treated at a hospital. She was worried about transporting Ross herself because she was so weak.

“They suggested all sorts of arrangements to do in the car transport. I said she is too weak. They told me to call a medical transport agency to take her.”

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Bayne said she gave up on the conversation and helped her mom get dressed.

On Monday, Jan. 30, she took the senior to the emergency room at the Misericordia Community Hospital in west Edmonton.

“They could not believe that we were denied 911, not once, but twice. The nurses there were fabulous. They said, ‘We see you. We see what’s happening.'”

Click to play video: 'Edmontonians concerned with 911 calls being transferred to 811'
Edmontonians concerned with 911 calls being transferred to 811

Bayne said they sat all day in the waiting room before her mom was admitted into emergency that Monday evening.

“She needed to be there on a stretcher, but she waited the entire day at the Misericordia in chair slumped over. The security guard even felt sorry for her.”

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Ross was able to get a room in the hospital the following day and as of Sunday, Feb. 5, Bayne said her mom was still there.

“It’s horrible. The doctors, the nurses, were all shaking their heads. They’re looking at her and saying, ‘She needs to be here. She needs to be in emergency. She’s been there since Monday and I’m sure will continue to be there at least another week,” Bayne said on Sunday.

The province announced last week that 911 calls determined to be less severe will be transferred to 811 to speak to a registered nurse.

It’s meant to free up paramedics to focus on life-threatening calls.

When Albertans are connected to EMS after calling 911, an EMS operator does a preliminary evaluation and dispatches an ambulance. Further evaluation that reveals the call as non-serious and non-urgent are then transferred to a registered nurse at HealthLink, calling off the ambulance response.

RNs can still transfer the call back to EMS, via a dedicated line, requesting an ambulance if needed.

Health Minister Jason Copping estimated this could divert up to 40,000 calls a year in cases where ambulances aren’t needed.

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Copping said the program was soft launched in mid-January.

Alberta Health Services said in a statement on Sunday, transfers are not forced and any Albertan requiring EMS will receive it.

“This process uses a set of complex, internationally accepted guidelines to assess the seriousness of an EMS call and determine if an ambulance needs to be dispatched or the call can be transferred to a Health Link RN (registered nurse) for further assessment,” AHS said.

“After the RN assessment, should it be determined an ambulance is required, Health Link will immediately transfer the call back to EMS for emergency response to be dispatched.”

On Monday, Alberta Health Services gave an interview and wasn’t able to comment on the specifics of this situation, but said the  changes are meant to be beneficial.

“What we are trying to do here is add a level service for the people in the community that are calling EMS,” said AHS executive director Jim Garland.

Garland said people who are determined to be in a non-urgent situation often have to wait longer for an ambulance, and having calls transferred to 811 could mean faster care.

“The goal of this is just to get people the right care,” Garland said. “Quite often, people call EMS because they don’t know how to get the right care and this has just given another pathway for them to do that.”

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After this experience, Bayne isn’t too sure how well the process is working. She’s worried about what will happen if her mom gets sick again.

“If something happens to her again, heaven forbid we have to call 911.

“It’s horrible because you don’t know where to turn or what to do anymore and it’s degrading for this poor person to go through this.”

Bayne said after the experience, she’s wondering for the first time in her life if the family needs to live in a different province.

“It’s so sad for what our seniors are going through. It’s not broken — our health-care system is shattered. I don’t know how we can come out of this.”

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