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B.C. health minister points finger at Telus for COVID-19 vaccine booking failures

Last Updated Mar 10, 2021 at 10:54 am PDT

Summary

Adrian Dix says buck stops with him, but work failures rest with Telus

Telus apologizes, takes responsibility for issues with booking COVID-19 vaccinations

While 369 appointments were booked in Vancouver Coastal on Monday, every other health authority had more than 1,000

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – After a disastrous first day of vaccine appointment bookings — especially in Vancouver Coastal Health — the province is pushing the company contracted to do the work to keep their promise.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix says the buck stops with him, but work failures rest with Telus.

Dix says the company promised it was ready to go, even as late as 9 p.m. on Sunday, the evening before the first day of phone bookings.

“They said they would deliver the services necessary [Monday] and through this week and through the coming weeks. They did not meet their contractual obligation,” he said.

But Dix emphasized Tuesday that the ultimate responsibility is his.

“I … acknowledge and apologize to people who were so frustrated yesterday. I can tell them — having spoken to a number of them — that I share their frustration and we’re going to be taking steps to improve the situation in the coming days,” he said.

Dix says Telus is promising to do better and bolster resources, “but we are not waiting for that. We are going to be adding staffing to ensure seniors over 90 and that Indigenous seniors over 65 get the services they deserve this week.”

He adds other health authorities had their own call centres ready as back-ups if Telus failed, but not Vancouver.

Telus apologizes, takes responsibility

The company has issued a statement, saying it is “incredibly sorry,” adding “we can and will do better.”

The statement from President and CEO Darren Entwistle says there was an “unprecedented demand” and the company has bumped up the number of agents taking calls.

“We know how crucial the vaccine rollout is for British Columbia, and we are incredibly sorry for the frustrations that British Columbians have experienced trying to connect to the call centres. We can and will do better, and we are working diligently to make this right. Our team has been working around the clock to scale capacity and respond to the unprecedented demand. We promised to have 156 agents answering calls at all times to schedule vaccinations and currently, we have exceeded this number with 191 agents answering calls. By this afternoon, we will have more than 250 agents taking calls, for a total of 550 agents working today, and hundreds more being added in real time. With 20,000 team members and retirees living and working in British Columbia, no organization is more committed to this province than TELUS, and we will ensure that all eligible British Columbians can book their vaccine in the timeframe set out by the province.”

Only 2.5 per cent of B.C. bookings Monday were within Vancouver Coastal

By the end of Monday, nearly 15,000 British Columbians had booked an appointment, but only 2.5 per cent of those were in Vancouver Coastal.

Laurie Dahlgren was one of the many people who had trouble getting through on the phone lines Monday. She says she only got through once around 1 p.m. and was put on hold for 2.5 hours, before her call was disconnected.

She called NEWS 1130 on Tuesday after again running into more issues trying to book her father for a COVID-19 shot.

“I tried at two minutes to 7 just to see what it says and I got the recording that said, ‘Thank you for calling the vaccine line. We’re unable to take your call at this moment, please call back again.’ When I heard my clock hit 7, all of a sudden I started getting that funny busy signal … it’s not a normal busy signal,” she explained Tuesday after trying for more than an hour.

“There’s no word for that frustration but there’s no way my father could have done this. And I don’t know how they expect 90-year-olds to be able to do this and I hope a lot of them have people like me that are doing it for them,” Dahlgren said.

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Dix said about 1.7 million phone calls were received between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Monday, despite only around 80,000 people being eligible for the first round of B.C.’s broader vaccination efforts.

“I very much appreciate the enthusiasm of everybody calling in, but I would ask that people allow those who are eligible this week to book appointments to have priority,” he said.

By the close of call centres Monday, 14,949 people had booked appointments for a shot.

There were only 369 appointments made in the Vancouver Coastal Health region, compared to 8,722 appointments booked in the neighboring Fraser Health region. The Northern Health Authority, which has about a quarter of the population of Vancouver Coastal, registered 1,007.

The health minister says the province will be working with Vancouver Coastal to get things back on track.

From March 8 to 12, Indigenous people age 65 and up, as well as other British Columbians age 90 and up, are eligible to book appointments. Some regions have different timelines due to population density and vaccine stock.

Dahlgren’s father is 81 years old but lives in Powell River, one of the regions where seniors 80 years of age and older are already able to book an appointment.

Fraser Health is the only authority currently offering people the option to book online. Dix is promising online options across B.C. by April 12, but Dahlgren doesn’t understand why that isn’t already the case.

“It’s unfair. It should be online right now. Seriously, Fraser Health could get it up, why can’t Vancouver Coastal get it online,” said Dahlgren, audibly frustrated. “It just doesn’t make any sense in this day and age that they couldn’t get with the program.”

Related article: Vaccine bookings in Vancouver Coastal account for just 2.5% of B.C. total

On Monday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry acknowledged the delays and said Fraser Health was the only one with a “robust enough” online system ready to go.

“Obviously we wanted it to be ready for weeks ago, but it does take time to get those things together,” she said.

Assurances from the province aren’t enough for Dahlgren, though.

“They’ve known this has been coming for a long time. They’ve had plenty of time to get ready and it’s unacceptable that they don’t have both an online and a phone system … so that people who are able to book online can do that and let those poor people not hold or hit redial for five hours,” she told NEWS 1130. “And then to get through and hold for 2.5 hours and be cut off?”