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'Telus failed us' over vaccine call centres, says B.C. health minister

Vancouver telecom giant says it's adding hundreds of call centre workers to assist efforts to book vaccine appointments
call centre workers
"We can and will do better," Telus says in a statement.

B.C.’s health minister is calling out Telus Corp. for its performance facilitating the first day of COVID-19 vaccine appointments after bottlenecks hit call centres hard. 

“Vancouver Coastal Health was fully dependent on our call centre provider to provide services based on the contract they had signed with us and the promises they repeatedly made about being prepared. That contractor, the provider, Telus, failed us yesterday,” Adrian Dix said in the provincial legislature Tuesday.

“For that failure, a lot of people wasted time, and I think lost some confidence in the system — confidence that we'll have to work hard to rebuild at every level in terms of both technical issues that affected all health authorities and staffing issues.”

Dix revealed on Monday that 1.7 million calls were placed to call centres throughout the province within the first three hours of lines opening up at 7 a.m.

British Columbians eligible to book vaccine appointments were greeted by dropped calls and extensive wait times.

By the end of the day, only 369 appointments were booked for the Vancouver Coastal Health region.

“The contractor, the provider, Telus, did not meet its contractual obligations and let down people over 90 and let down Indigenous people over 65,” Dix said, referring to the two groups of British Columbians currently eligible to book appointments.

“It is unacceptable. We are taking steps, of course, to beef up our ability to work and to support independently of Telus, and Telus has made commitments that these questions will be resolved — the technical questions and the staffing questions — ASAP. But we are not simply counting on that. If they are not resolved, other actions will have to be taken.”

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry on Monday urged the provider to “step up” amid the bottlenecks.

"We know how crucial the vaccine rollout is for British Columbia and we are sorry for the frustrations that British Columbians have experienced trying to connect to call centres. The provincial government and health authorities asked us to support them and we have let them down,” the Vancouver-based telecom giant said in a statement.

“We can and will do better, and we will make this right. Our team has been working overnight to respond to the significant demand and scale capacity by adding hundreds of additional agents. We will ensure that all eligible British Columbians are able to book their vaccine in the timeframe set out by the province."

About 82,000 British Columbians are currently eligible to book — 47,000 people 90 years old or above, and 35,000 Indigenous people 65 years or older — while 26,000 people in those eligible groups have already received at least one dose.

But Fraser Health is the only local health authority that rolled out an online booking platform on Monday.

The remaining four health authorities in the province were depending on call centres.

Out of the 10,000 or so appointments booked Monday, 8,722 were made through Fraser Health.

Dix said Monday a province-wide online booking platform will be ready to launch April 12 as the province begins vaccinating the broader population in the coming weeks.

Details on the province’s booking platform remain sparse and provincial officials said one week ago more information would be made available in the coming weeks.

For now, the vast majority of eligible British Columbians must make their bookings through dedicated call centres for the province’s five local health authorities.

Family members are able to book on behalf of seniors who may not feel comfortable scheduling their vaccinations on their own.

Booking eligibility will expand to those 85 years and older by March 15, and 80 years and older by March 22.

Vaccinations for elderly British Columbians begin March 29 as the province continues to prioritize vulnerable groups and frontline health-care workers for vaccinations over the next three weeks.

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