Saanichton mother waited an hour and 40 minutes to hear back from ambulance dispatch

Erin Booth was grocery shopping last Sunday evening in Sidney, when suddenly she felt intense pressure in her head and weakness in her body.

“Over a matter of three seconds, I completely lost hearing,” Booth said. “Everything went silent.”

When she called 911 and requested an ambulance, she was told it would be a long wait. After half an hour waiting for an ambulance dispatcher to take her call, she hung up — because by the she’d already arrived at Saanich Peninsula Hospital by taxi.

Staff at the grocery store helped her call the cab. It was a last resort while she was on hold, but it turned out to be the right call. She didn’t hear back from ambulance dispatch until she was being prepped for a CT scan at the hospital an hour and 40 minutes after her initial call.

“This is completely unacceptable,” said Booth Thursday, recounting the incident and how long it it took for her to connect with ambulance dispatch.

“I’d heard inklings of wait times, but had no idea of the severity.”

Troy Clifford is the head of the union for ambulance paramedics and their dispatchers. He agrees with Booth that it’s clearly a unacceptable wait.

“That just breaks my heart,” said Clifford. “I just can’t imagine her situation that she had to wait that long.”

It’s just the latest story of someone on Vancouver Island waiting too long after calling for an ambulance. In August, 72-year-old Parksville resident Harry Charles Blakey died of a heart attack after waiting half an hour on hold.

The province committed this summer to hiring 30 new dispatchers and additional paramedics across B.C. after criticism of slow responses during the heat dome. That process is underway, and is one Clifford calls a good start, but not enough.

“Nobody should have to wait on hold in their time of emergency,” he said.

There's been an average of approximately 2,000 calls a day in B.C. for ambulances this month — about 500 more per day than usual.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix said the addition of 30 new dispatchers in B.C. should be enough to handle the current call volumes.

“That's a very significant increase in the number of dispatchers and that's going to help significantly,” said DIx.

Clifford disagrees, and says determining how many more are needed is job one.

“I think that’s really our top priority right now: assessing what our needs are, so that we meet those demands.”

After her experience this past weekend, Booth agrees.

“It could be you, tomorrow, that needs to place this call,” she said. “That’s why this is so important.”