Eighty-year-old Jean Howell has given up on trying to get through to Island Health’s COVID assessment call centre. She has heard this same message each of the 71 times she has tried over the past three days: an automated voice saying its unable to accept her call due to high call volumes.
She started calling earlier this week out of an abundance of caution after waking up feeling lethargic with bit of a headache.
While her symptoms are now gone, her frustrations with the system aren’t.
“I’m not very pleased. They need to make it 24/7 and they need to have it manned by real people,” said the Victoria senior.
Howell’s experience isn’t unique
“I’ve phoned it for almost an entire day and I continue to get the same automated message, it doesn’t even ring,” said Nanaimo resident Dalia Levy.
Levy has been trying to get tested since feeling symptoms after a flight that was flagged for having a positive COVID-19 passenger on board. She eventually gave up on the call centre and contacted a doctor though a walk-in clinic. After multiple calls and multiple conversations, she finally received a test Friday morning and is awaiting the results.
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Island Health is aware there’s a problem.
“On behalf of Island Health I just want to extend my greatest apologies and my greatest thank you for people who do keep trying to get in because we know that getting tested is the right thing to do so thank you for continuing to try,” said Island Health’s Vice-President of Pandemic Planning.
Schmid says there are a few factors at play right now making it difficult to get through. With strep throat going around, nurses are spending more time on the phone with those who call in, and Island Health has lost some of its own staff to illness over the past few days.
“So there’s always things like that that throw a wrench into the flow for the day,” she said.
Despite the call centre issues, Island Health is actually doing more tests now than a few weeks ago, currently averaging about 430 tests per day.
Yet the region is still only seeing an average of one or two new cases of COVID each day, a test positive rate below half a per cent.
Schmid credits part of that to the time the assessment call centre nurses take with each patient that calls in.
“That nurse provides them with education around how to properly self-isolate, what it means to self isolate in a house where you have other people, and how to go about your business and be safe,” she said.
Still, she says, the call centre issues are being addressed with 20 new nurses set to start in the next week.