Oliver Grüter-Andrew, E-Comm President & CEO: addressing 9-1-1 wait times due to ambulance transfer delays

Vancouver, B.C.—E-Comm wishes to acknowledge how incredibly difficult it is for British Columbians, in a time of need, to be faced with call delays when requiring urgent assistance from emergency services.

The current issue regarding 9-1-1 call-taking delays is directly related to the staffing levels at BC Emergency Health Services (BCEHS), the provincial organization responsible for ambulance call-taking and dispatch.

It is important to understand that when an individual calls 9-1-1, they are initially connected to an E-Comm call taker who immediately transfers the caller to the requested police agency, fire department or, when an ambulance is needed, to BCEHS. The E-Comm call taker must wait on the line with the caller until they have been connected with the requested emergency service agency. Unfortunately, over the past several months, E-Comm has experienced continued and consistent delays in attempting to transfer calls for ambulance to BCEHS. This has resulted in significant delays on the 9-1-1 lines as our staff are unavailable to answer other incoming calls, not only for ambulance, but also for urgent police and fire response.

Overall, E-Comm has enough staff to be able to handle current 9-1-1 call volumes and answer these calls quickly and efficiently, provided agencies are able to accept call transfers in a timely manner. The staffing challenges at BCEHS mean our call takers are having to spend a significant amount of time on the line with callers, waiting for them to be connected to BCEHS. When all 9-1-1 call takers are waiting to transfer calls, this means other incoming 9-1-1 calls (whether for ambulance, or police and fire) have to wait to be answered until our call takers have been freed up.

This is an incredibly serious issue that has been difficult not just for the public, but also for our staff who are forced to wait on the line with callers in medical distress, while seeing that other incoming 9-1-1 calls are on hold as a result. E-Comm staff do not have the training or the authority to provide medical guidance and therefore the stress of this situation – both for our staff and members of the public in critical need – is extremely difficult.

One of the challenges these delays are creating is that callers are hanging up and calling back on 9-1-1 after reaching a recorded announcement during transfers to the ambulance service. We urge the public to please stay on the line, as hanging up and redialing will further tie-up the system. You will get help faster by staying on the line.

The risk to public safety as a result of the BCEHS delays is of serious and growing concern to our organization. E-Comm will continue to offer what assistance we can as BCEHS works to find an immediate solution to this matter.