New Brunswick

811 capacity expanded after COVID-19 calls swamp service

The Health Department has added lines to its 811 Tele-Care service after days of long waits for people trying to talk to nurses about COVID-19.

Higgs blames says non-urgent questions about coronavirus swamped the system

New Brunswick's 811 health-care line has seen a surge in call volume in recent weeks. (Gajus/Shutterstock)

The Health Department has added lines to its 811 Tele-Care service after days of long waits for people trying to talk to nurses about COVID-19.

Jennifer Russell, the chief medical health officer of health, revealed the expanded capacity Monday during a call-in show on Information Morning after a caller spoke of people not being able to get through.

On Sunday, Premier Blaine Higgs urged people not to call 811 about COVID-19 unless they're showing symptoms.

He said people merely looking for information about the coronavirus were overloading the 811 service, making it difficult for people who have symptoms and need to talk to a nurse.

Daily call volume is four times higher than normal.

"We need people to slow down and think about how they impact others if they are tying up an emergency service," Higgs said Sunday while giving an update on the latest number of cases of COVID-19 in the province. 

Higgs said up to 1,000 calls are coming into the line each day.

"These are people that are anxious, for good reason."

But Higgs said people looking for information, and not showing symptoms of the coronavirus, should visit the government's website.

New Brunswick Premier Blaine Higgs said the volume of calls to the province's Tele-Care system is up four times from the normal daily volume. (Gary Moore/CBC)

Deb Jollimore had that experience on Friday. She had a fever and tried calling the number.

She called at around 7:30 a.m. and waited on hold for an hour. That's when she was automatically disconnected from the call. 

"Then I tried to call back and I couldn't get through," Jollimore said. 

It wasn't until later that afternoon that she was able to get through. She waited on hold for another hour before she left a message for a nurse to call her back. 

More than 10 hours later, she got a call from a nurse — in the middle of the night.

Jollimore said she understands the system is backlogged but is worried about the wait time for people who are concerned about their symptoms. 

"We need to make sure that people have timely access to medical advice, whether it be over the phone or in person."

Along with visiting the government's website, the province is recommending people call a federal health line with questions about the virus. The number is 1-833-784-4397.



Gary Moore

CBC News

Gary Moore is a video journalist based in Fredericton.


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