‘Error in judgment’: AHS head apologizes for frustration, long wait times for COVID-19 vaccine rollout

CALGARY — The CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS) has issued an apology to seniors after they experienced frustration and worry due to complications with the COVID-19 vaccination booking system.

AHS opened phone lines and online portals Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. for community seniors born in 1946 or earlier, but the system was crashing within minutes and many Albertans experienced busy signals when calling 811.

In an online message to Albertans, AHS CEO and president Dr. Verna Yiu, admitted that her team underestimated the number of seniors who would be looking to book an appointment when lines first opened.

“We made an error in judgment in how we stress tested our online booking system,” the statement read.

“We had planned for tens of thousands at a time, and demand far exceeded that, leading to technical issues that took several hours to resolve. The technical issues have been fixed, a queuing waiting room is in place, and the system is stable.”

Yiu added that public confidence in the ability of AHS to deliver immunizations has been shaken after some seniors waited hours in long lineups at immunization clinics across the province.

“No one one wants to line up outside in the Alberta winter, and no one should,” Yiu said.

“Everyone who has an appointment is being vaccinated, and we have put in place better line management and process at the sites to encourage people to wait in their vehicles until their time slot.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the online booking tool is now capable of handling more than 5,000 bookings per hour.

FRUSTRATION OVER LONG WAIT TIMES

Some Albertans are suggesting the province bit off more than it could chew when it comes to handling the mass volumes of vaccinations and demand from seniors.

Nick Gretener waited 10 hours to book an appointment online for his 90-year-old mother. He says the province should have limited the age range and set aside certain days for older seniors to access the vaccine first.

“It was like it was teasing you and a couple times I got all the way through with a countdown clock on the website and then it crashed again,” he said.

“811 was hopeless and the province’s mistake was overpromising. Why not start at 85 years old and up for the first couple days and then go down from there? It cuts the groups down and gives the servers a chance to catch up.”

At the end of the day, Gretener says he is just grateful that he finally got an appointment booked.

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AHS says more than 120,000 Albertans signed up to get the COVID-19 vaccine this week, which is more than half the population of the 75 and up age group.

More than 12,000 seniors 75 and older have also been immunized over the past two days.

Despite the long lines and hours spent on the phone or behind computer screens, many others are also relieved.

“It’s a great benefit and a huge advancement of science,” said Larry, a local senior who received the COVID-19 vaccine Saturday morning in Calgary.

Others, like 82-year-old Antonio Vechhio, are also happy to have an added layer of protection.

“I think I’m going to feel better so my mind is going to be at ease,” he said.

‘WE CAN BE BETTER’

Yiu added in her message to Albertans that AHS has taken several more steps to address concerns with the online booking system for vaccinations in the future, which include hiring additional staff, posting more signage at sites and adding more phone lines for Health Link.

AHS is also looking into expediting more vaccination sites in Edmonton to cut down on significant lineups.

Some of the clinics are still expected to be behind schedule because of the time needed to vaccinate each individual, so appointments may need to be extended past the 10-minute allotment in some cases.

“We know we can be better,” Yiu said.

“I thank you for your patience as we move forward with the next phases of immunizations. We are working to make sure we are better prepared, and that we serve Albertans with care, respect and integrity.”

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