Vancouver Island woman gives up on ambulance, calls cab to get to hospital while on hold with 911

Called cab on 911 hold

When Erin Booth felt faint and disoriented while shopping alone in a Sidney grocery store, she called 911 for help and was put on hold for an ambulance. She waited so long that eventually she took a cab to the hospital.

“I was absolutely shocked,” said Booth. “No one plans on calling 911, so it’s so important people realize having a backup plan might be very important right now while ambulance staffing shortages are worked out.”

Booth was in an aisle at Save-on-Foods when she felt a sudden intense pressure in her head, her hearing became muffled, and “I thought I was going to just fall over,” she said.

It was 7:01 p.m. Sunday. Booth called E-Comm 911. The call taker asked: “Police, fire, ambulance?” Booth replied: “Ambulance” and was told there would be a really long wait and was she sure she wanted one. The call taker was seemingly unable to hazard an estimate when it would arrive. “I was thinking a long wait was going to be five minutes,” Booth said.

Fifteen minutes later, Save-on-Foods employees assisted Booth in ordering a cab. It would be 105 minutes before she’d hear from the ambulance service.

“It was 7:30 when I finally hung up the call because I had gotten to Saanich Peninsula Hospital and I was still on hold,” Booth said.

“It was at 8:45 p.m. when I was being prepped for a CT scan, getting the IV in my arm, and that’s when B.C. Ambulance called me back to see if I still needed an ambulance,” she said.

E-Comm 911 tweeted on Sunday that similar to the previous day, “we are continuing to see some waits on 911 as our call takers transfer 911 calls to ambulance. We are anticipating another busy night ahead and we are asking the public to #HelpUsHelp, keep 911 lines free for emergencies only.”

Booth, who has two children, ages nine and 11, said it’s ingrained in Canadians if there’s an emergency to call 911.

If another emergency were to happen, Booth said she’d use the service again, but this time “I’ll be thinking of how am I going to get to the hospital or how else am I going to get the help I need.

“This wasn’t a one-off or bad luck, or the call got dropped. When I called, the guy said: ‘You know this is going to be a long wait, right?’ so I wasn’t the only one experiencing long waits to get connected to an ambulance.”

“All you get is this unhelpful recording saying ‘we have heavy call volumes please stay on the line,’” Booth said of her experience while on hold wtih 911.

As is their policy, the 911 call taker told Booth they would stay on the line until the ambulance service engaged.
But when she ordered a cab she said she repeatedly tried to get the call taker’s attention and no one answered.

Compounding the seriousness of the wait, she said, is that E-Comm call takers with no medical expertise answer the call, but don’t ask details or triage the emergency and can’t give patients or bystanders medical instruction while waiting. “I don’t think it’s a great model,” she said.

More BC News