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After 90 calls, 96-year-old B.C. woman finally gets vaccine appointment

A B.C. family had to ring the call centre more than 90 times before they got through to get their 96-year-old mother a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.
Pamela Hobbs, 96, is seen here enjoying a flight with family before the COVID-19 pandemic.

A B.C. family is pleading with the public to wait their turn when calling to book a COVID-19 vaccine after they tried more than 90 times to get through for their 96-year-old mother.

They eagerly called the call centre to get their elderly mom a vaccine appointment on Monday, an effort they say took more than 24 hours and repeated calls before being connected to an operator.

“It was a bit frustrating,” says a family spokesperson, who asked not to be named.

Pamela Hobbs lives alone in Sidney on Vancouver Island. She has nine children and is a Second World War veteran.

“She’s amazing. She puts her mask on and goes and gets her own groceries. She is the most independent spry 96-year-old you could ever possibly imagine,” says the family member. “The hardest part for her is the loneliness at her age.”

He claims to have called the call centre 30 times on Monday; his mother, meanwhile, tried 20 times. Then on Tuesday, it took another 40 times before he could get through.

“It [the voice prompt] would tell you if you’re over 90 or calling on behalf of someone over 90, just stay on the line. Then 10 seconds later, it would say, ‘Sorry, we can’t get to your call right now,’” he explains.

Call centres across British Columbia received about 1.7 million calls within the first three hours of the lines opening up at 7 a.m.

About 82,000 B.C. residents are eligible to book: 47,000 people 90 years old or above and 35,000 Indigenous people 65 years or older. By the end of the day, only 369 appointments were booked for the Vancouver Coastal Health Region, according to a BIV article.

The family luckily got through and was able to book Pamela an appointment for Monday, March 15.

In a written statement provided to Glacier Media, Telus (the contractor and call centre provider) says it’s incredibly sorry. 

“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,” says Darren Entwistle, the company's president and CEO.

He says Telus staff are working to make the issue right.

“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,” he says.

According to Entwistle, a total of 550 agents were working on Tuesday.

“We will ensure that all eligible British Columbians can book their vaccine in the timeframe set out by the province,” he adds.

The family spokesperson believes Telus is not the one to blame.

“I don’t think we’d have this issue if just the right people were calling,” he says. “Honestly, I think the government really needed to stress, ‘Please don’t call unless you’re over 90 or over 65 and Indigenous.’”

He admits once he got through, the person was very professional and helped get his mother an appointment quickly.