Nfld. & Labrador

Pregnant woman unable to reach 811 hopes sick people don't fall through the cracks

Vanessa Porter hopes people with other, non-COVID-19-related illnesses won't fall though the cracks.

Backlog and wait times should be improving as nurses added to answer calls

Vanessa Porter says she knew she didn't have COVID-19 but with a cough and headache she heeded advice and avoided the emergency room.

Instead, Porter, who is 17 weeks pregnant, made several attempts at calling the province's 811 health line that's staffed with registered nurses, to no avail.

She's concerned that sick people who are not experiencing COVID-19 symptoms could get lost in the shuffle.

"I'd been sick for a couple weeks with a head cold ... standard winter cold. But I started getting these really bad headaches," Porter said of her experience on Monday.

"I was telling my friend and she, I guess, started to panic for me and was worried it could be high blood pressure or preclampsia," a pregnancy condition which causes high blood pressure.

Vanessa Porter of St. John's, pictured with her young son. She and her husband have another child on the way. (Submitted by Vanessa Porter)

After waiting a few days, Porter said her sickness got worse with nausea and vomiting.

With her family doctor's office closed, Porter's husband repeatedly called the 811 heath line.

No answer

"He had called three times and we could not get through at all," Porter said.

He then called the telephone operator at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John's who seemed concerned and forwarded him to the emergency room.

"Whoever answered the phone in the emergency room said they couldn't answer calls and hung up on him," Porter said.

Without another choice, Porter said she went to hospital where it was discovered she had dehydration and low electrolytes.

"Calling 811 would have been a really good help but we really couldn't get through — we didn't even have the option of leaving a message to get a call back."

Vanessa Porter says she received good care at the Health Sciences Centre but hopes the 811 health line can deal with the increased capacity soon. (CBC)

In media briefings this week, Health Minister John Haggie acknowledged the backlog of calls and urged the public to use the line effectively and efficiently.

Fourteen nurses were brought into the fold to answer calls to additional phone lines.

Porter fears non-COVID-19 illness may fall to the wayside as the health system strains to keep up with virus inquiries. 

"As a pregnant mother, I already have a child at home, you never know if something would happen to him and it would be nice to only be a phone call away from a registered nurse," she said.

CBC News has requested the number of calls to the health line but has not heard back. 

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