The delays seniors faced when attempting to book a vaccine appointment was “concerning,” says one Red Deer resident.
“With all the time that was available to plan and produce a proper system for registration, this was a really abysmal failure,” said 86-year-old Sam Denhaan.
The Government of Alberta was scheduled to begin booking appointments for people 75 and older Wednesday morning. But phone lines were swamped and the Alberta Health Services website crashed as seniors attempted to book appointments.
“Almost all day, I tried several times, and it was busy. Sometimes communications systems will say they’re busy and someone will call you back, but that wasn’t available,” said Denhaan, who used to be central Alberta Council on Aging president.
“Of course the online wasn’t available as well. I tried half a dozen times yesterday. You’d get to a certain point and it would stall.”
Denhaan said he feels the overcrowding of registration attempts came from the “wide open registration that was offered.” He said a more staged approach to bookings would have worked better.
On Thursday, Alberta Health Services stated it had improved access to 811, which is the number people call to book an appointment.
“Albertans calling 811 now have a choice to route their calls to book a COVID-19 immunization appointment or to reach a registered nurse for medical concerns,” AHS said on Twitter.
“The two options will help refer callers more quickly to the resource they need. A holding queue for callers requesting the immunization appointment option has also been created to allow 350 individuals to wait for a Health Link team member to book their vaccine appointment.”
AHS said more than 100,000 Albertans aged 75 and older have booked their appointments.
“Shipments are expected soon and we anticipate all Albertans 75 and older will be immunized by early April,” said AHS.
“We continue to anticipate a wait time to get through to the online booking tool or Health Link in the coming days. Please be patient if you are waiting to book a vaccine appointment.”
Denhaan said he’s “really concerned” for seniors who aren’t tech savvy.
“If the technology is not available, then the 811 number has to be available for them. If the 811 number is constantly busy, then that creates major problems,” he said.
“There are some seniors who have children or advocates who can use their skills, but there are also many who don’t have that. They get very anxious because of the process and they have limited ability, which brings them to the point where if the system doesn’t work, it creates anxiety.”
Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the online booking tool is not capable of handling more than 5,000 bookings per hour and the long wait times have subsided.
”I have further directed Alberta Health Services to add more servers, hire more staff and add more phone lines over and above what may be needed for future phases of the vaccine deployment,” Shandro said in a statement Thursday.
Anyone interested in booking an appointment is asked to call 811 or visit ahs.ca/covidvaccine. Albertans can also book a vaccine appointment through some local pharmacies.