B.C. health authorities are assigning additional staff to respond to pressure of thousands of callers seeking COVID-19 vaccine appointments, and expects Telus to live up to its contract to get the job done, Health Minister Adrian Dix says.
Dix told the B.C. legislature Monday that there was a particular failure to keep up with demand in the Vancouver Coastal Health region on the first day of booking for community residents aged 90 and up and Indigenous people aged 65 and up. He singled out Telus, which had no backup call centre service from Vancouver Coastal as the other four health regions have, and promised to “hold them accountable” for their performance.
“That contractor, Telus, failed us yesterday,” Dix said March 9, adding that the government’s main phone contractor has given assurances it will meet its obligations.
Telus CEO Darren Entwistle issued a statement Tuesday apologizing for the first-day performance, adding that by Tuesday afternoon it will have 250 agents taking calls, with hundreds more to come as the vaccine program ramps up.
“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,” Entwistle said. “We can and will do better, and we are working diligently to make this right.”
The opening of phone appointments for all five regions Monday morning saw a huge rush of calls, with 1.7 million separate calls recorded in three hours. There are about 50,000 of the most elderly people eligible to make appointments this week, with vaccine clinics to begin next week and a larger group aged 85 and up invited to begin calling starting Monday, March 15. Details of the age-based system and phone numbers for each authority are available here.
Dix noted that 15,000 of the 50,000 eligible people did book appointments Monday, and response in Fraser Health, Interior Health, Island Health and Northern Health was “OK but not great” the first day. More than half of those successful bookings were in Fraser Health, the only region that was able to have an online booking system in place.
Dix said all five health authorities expect to have online booking in place by April, when the larger groups in the lower age groups become eligible. Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the online system is an urgent priority.
“I think we need to be aware that there is quite a large project in terms of developing a seamless online and phone system for April,” Henry said Monday. “Obviously we wanted it to be ready for weeks ago, but it does take time to get those things together. Fraser Health is the only health authority that had that type of an online booking system that was robust enough at this point.”