SPRINGHILL – Jeff Hiltz had heard 811 was the place to turn if you had a health-related question during a time of need.
The Springhill man was disappointed the system failed him last weekend when he had a question about his mother’s deteriorating health. He says it took more than two hours for a nurse to call him back when he was originally told the wait should be 30 minutes to an hour.
“It was a huge disappointment,” Hiltz said. “I’m not sure how much this system costs, but to me it's a waste of money because it’s not there when you need it.”
Hiltz’s 83-year-old mother, Doreen, was struggling with a bad cold last week and he had noticed her cough was getting worse. She has multiple sclerosis, is pretty much bed-ridden and lives with Hiltz and his wife. Knowing there was no doctor available on March 3 at All Saints Hospital, and how long the wait can be at the regional hospital in Amherst, Hiltz called the provincial 811 system to get some advice on how to proceed.
“With her being bed-ridden I was looking for some direction on what to do. I really didn’t want her to have to sit in a wheelchair for hours in Amherst,” Hiltz said. “When I first got up Saturday morning I checked on her and her cough wasn’t as bad so I thought she might be getting better. As the afternoon went on I felt it was starting to get worse so I called 811. I didn’t want to take her to a hospital if I didn’t have to with the viruses going around and the challenge of taking her to the hospital myself.”
When he called 811, the person who answered the call took his information and said someone would call back within 30 minutes to an hour. When the time passed with no return call, he decided to act and took her to the hospital in Pugwash, where there was a doctor on call.
“My wife called a friend who is a registered nurse and told her about the rattle in my mother’s chest. She suggested we take her to a hospital because there was a bad virus going around and we didn’t want to take the chance with pneumonia,” Hiltz said.
She was assessed there and quickly shipped by ambulance to the Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre where she was admitted with pneumonia. Her condition deteriorated through the weekend and she was taken to hospital in Halifax to have a temporary pacemaker put into her chest. The procedure was successful and her condition has improved – although she is still a patient in the ICU at the regional facility.
While he was at the Pugwash hospital with his mother, the return call from 811 was finally received.
“I was standing next to the doctor when the call came from 811. I told them I decided to take her to the hospital, I couldn’t wait for their call,” he said. “After I hung up, the doctor asked if that was 911? The doctor couldn’t believe it took them that long to call. He said I was a very polite person considering the wait.”
He thinks the money spent on 811 would be better put into recruiting more doctors for rural areas of the province.
“To me, it was useless,” he said.
Tracy Barron from the Health and Wellness Department said 811 is a non-emergency, 24/7 health service with response times that vary based on the urgency of the call and call volume. Some callers will wait longer than others based on the acuity of the call. Higher priority calls are taken first.
She said system is currently experiencing longer than normal call back times.
“This is due to the introduction of new call-taking software, as well as higher call volumes, acuity of patient symptoms and the impact on staff of the peak flu season,” Barron told the Amherst News. “These are being mitigated to return the service to normal operational levels.”
If all telehealth staff are assisting other callers, she said, they have the option of leaving voice message for a call back within a short amount of time.
“Callers receive an automated voice recording advising that in the case of an emergency, hang up and dial 911. A process is in place to ensure there is no delay in more urgent situations. For emergencies, people should call 911.”
If anyone has questions, comments or concerns regarding the 811 service, she said feedback can be given to 811 via the online form found on the website (https://811.novascotia.ca/feedback-process) or by calling the Department of Health and Wellness directly at 902-424-5200 or toll-free at 1-800-670-4357.
She added 811 has a robust quality system in place to investigate each inquiry.