'Mom, I can't get ahold of anybody at 911': B.C. family faces difficulty getting ambulance for injured boy
Issues last week with B.C.'s 911 service provider meant some callers, including a grandmother, faced long waits or were unable to get through at all.
When seven-year-old Zak Ismail cut his foot on broken glass and his mom couldn't get the bleeding under control, his grandmother says repeated calls to 911 were met with a busy signal.
"She says, 'Mom, I can't get a hold of anybody at 911,' and I was like, 'How can that be?'" said Delta grandmother Erin Schulte
Schulte says she was at work at the time and made the 30-minute drive to her grandson. The frantic grandmother then put him in the car and rushed him to Surrey Memorial Hospital herself.
But says she could tell his condition was deteriorating.
"His eyes were drooping down and he was slouching down. Scary, because I had seen how much blood was on the garage floor (where he injured himself)," Schulte told CTV News.
The emotional grandmother recalled trying to comfort Zak.
"We're on our way to the hospital. Everything will be OK. Granny's got you," she said she told him.
Then she hit a traffic jam and was desperate for help.
"So I called 911. They said, "police, fire or ambulance?' I said, 'Please, I need an ambulance.' And for the rest of my trip to Surrey Memorial I was on hold until I pulled into the driveway," she said.
BC Emergency Health Services say the wait on hold was about 12 minutes. Schulte said she believed the wait to be between 16 and 18 minutes.
E-Comm, B.C.'s provider of emergency communication services, says it's not short-staffed, but admits there is a problem and it's not on its end.
"The challenge that we're experiencing is our call takers are being tied up on those 911 lines with callers waiting for an available BCEHS calltaker to accept that call on behalf of the ambulance service," explained Jasmine Bradley, a spokesperson for E-Comm.
In other words, when 911 dispatchers try to transfer the call to ambulance, callers sometimes face long waits at that point.
In a statement, the Ministry of Health said that BCEHS "has been currently experiencing a high volume of medical emergency calls."
The ministry says its taking action with "hundreds of new paramedic positions, 30 new dispatchers and 22 new ambulances." The positions are expected to be filled between October and December.
Troy Clifford of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. agreed steps have been made toward improvements, but said those steps aren't not enough.
"We're in the process of getting those positions but that doesn't help us in the short term ... We're still seeing those significant delays and the shortage of not enough ambulances to respond to calls."
He says at peak times, 25 per cent of ambulances are still parked because of a lack of staffing.
Clifford also says that the national benchmark is to respond to the most serious calls within 8.59 minutes 90 per cent of the time.
"In most places in the Lower Mainland we're not meeting that. They're over 10 minutes...We're hearing from agencies, our first responder partners, times are up to 20 minutes for those type of calls," Clifford said.
Meanwhile, E-Comm urges people not to hang up if they call 911 and hear a recorded message. Bradley said the caller will still get through faster by staying on the call than by re-dialing.
Schulte worries what might have happened if her grandson had been in a life or death situation and they had called 911.
"Because it's a literal crapshoot. Are they going to answer the phone? How long am I going to be on hold? Is someone going to actually come?" questioned Schulte.
She says the system needs to be fixed because lives are on the line.