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HomeBusiness“Telus failed”: NDP in damage control after vaccine phone fiasco vexes seniors

“Telus failed”: NDP in damage control after vaccine phone fiasco vexes seniors

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Bob Mackin

Back in March 2012, NDP Health Minister Adrian Dix was the biggest fan of Telus.

That was when he was NDP leader and BC Liberal Premier Christy Clark had just cancelled a $20 million contract for Telus to sponsor the renovated B.C. Place Stadium.

NDP Health Minister Adrian Dix and Telus CEO Darren Entwistle in 2012 (Mackin)

On March 9, Dix was pointing his finger angrily at the telecom, after one of the most-embarrassing days under Premier John Horgan’s administration.

Only 369 senior citizens in Vancouver Coastal Health were able to book coronavirus vaccination appointments on the first day phone lines were open. VCH did not have online booking, like Fraser Health does, so it was solely reliant on the Telus call centre.

VCH also happens to be the regional board chaired by Penny Ballem, the NDP appointee who doubles as B.C.’s coronavirus vaccine czar.

“Based on the contract they had signed with us and the promises they repeatedly made about being prepared, that contractor, the provider, Telus, failed us yesterday,” Dix said in Question Period on March 9. “For that failure, a lot of people wasted time and I think lost some confidence in the system that we’ll have to work hard to rebuild.”

Telus CEO Darren Entwistle issued a written statement, to say he was “incredibly sorry.”

We can and will do better, and we are working diligently to make this right,” Entwistle said. “Our team has been working around the clock to scale capacity and respond to the unprecedented demand.”

Entwistle said the company promised 156 operators at all times and would have a total 550 working on March 9.

“With 20,000 team members and retirees living and working in British Columbia, no organization is more committed to this province than Telus, and we will ensure that all eligible British Columbians can book their vaccine in the timeframe set out by the province,“ Entwistle said.

Former Vancouver city councillor Jonathan Baker (Zoom/Mackin)

Telus, meanwhile, suffered two major brand blows at a crucial time. The company’s 10-year omnibus contract with the government, Crown corporations and health authorities expires this year. While its competitors Rogers and Bell invested heavily in sports and media, Telus opted to focus on healthcare.

Sunshine Coast resident Jonathan Baker, a lawyer and Vancouver city councillor from 1986 to 1990, said he spent the first two days of the hotline rollout dialling every five minutes or so. At 83, he was eligible to call because of an exception VCH made for people aged 80 and up on the Sunshine Coast.

“You can’t get on. I’m not sure what they thought was going to happen,” Baker said in the morning on March 9.

“You begin to lose confidence that the thing is under control. People are issuing press releases that everything’s going to get better, but I don’t know anybody who’s had shots yet.”

Finally, a relieved Baker got through at 5:30 p.m. and booked a reservation for March 17.

“They were very nice and efficient when I got the lady, they ask your health number and tell you where you’re going to go,” Baker said.

“It really is potentially a matter of life and death, so you worry about it. There was an awful lot of people who were concerned.”

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