More than 1,000 people have dialled in to the City of Langford’s COVID-19 information line since it was first launched last week.
This self assessment phone number, reachable at 778-600-0240, was created to supplement and take the pressure off of the 9-1-1 and 8-1-1 lines that have been experiencing overwhelming numbers of calls since the pandemic started gaining momentum in B.C.
The phone line first went live on Monday, March 21st, and is manned seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m
Run by local entrepreneur and pharmacist Michael Forbes alongside Dr. Jean Paul Lim, the information line is part of an overall COVID-19 Langford Response Team, and employs a group of around 20 call centre workers manning the line.
For callers with symptoms that are deemed serious enough to require a physician’s assessment, there are half a dozen doctors available through the program to conduct consultations via video conferencing.
The program also employs around six nurses who are available to provide in-home testing for COVID-19 to those who qualify.
In the past week alone, they have conducted around 40 screenings at home. Tests are then sent to LifeLabs for assessment.
According to Forbes, this initiative is operated independently of Island Health authority, under the regulation of the College of Pharmacists and College of Physicians. The program follows CDC guidelines and protocols set out by the federal government.
“We are fully regulated and fully compliant with all laws, no different that any other walk-in clinic. The only difference is that we are making a difference by having infected people not leave their houses and spread the virus in a testing centre, emergency room, or clinic,” Forbes tells Victoria Buzz.
“This is a service where we can slow the spread of COVID by treating patients in the comfort of their homes and bringing services to them.”
Since the launch of their website and phone line, the Response Team has received over 16,000 inquiries and around 650 doctor consultations via teleconference.
The software to run these initiatives, called Ollo telemedicine, was created in-house from scratch.
The entire project is funded by the City of Langford, whose council approved a $400,000 budget to operate the response team. So far, the phone line has received calls from people across Greater Victoria.
“It’s well known: you call 8-1-1 and you’re on hold for sometimes hours. Our hold time is sometimes zero, and across the board, the average wait time is four minutes,” says Forbes.
“We’d love to have more municipal support from different districts. So far the other municipalities have been pretty silent with reaching out to us.”
Mayor Young responds
For his part, Langford Mayor Stew Young has been a strong advocate of getting as much information about the pandemic to individuals as possible.
Young tells Victoria Buzz that he had been worried about COVID-19 since the end of January, and had tried to get other Mayors in the region to plan for the effects of the virus in the region after first observing its evolution in China.
He says the response to the dedicated COVID-19 phone line in the community has been amazing.
“People on the other end of the line are so thankful, because they’ve been trying to get help for days,” says Young.
“It really does help when you’re isolated and if you get a symptom you can talk to someone and they can refer you to a nurse or doctor if it’s serious.”
While he doesn’t anticipate other Greater Victoria municipalities chipping in to help with funding, Young still hopes to get the word out to other regions and eventually expand the Langford Response Team program to help people across Greater Victoria.
In addition to funding the phone line and website, Langford staff will be sending a flyer to every house in the municipality to inform them about personal safety measures.
Mayor Young says he has also hired more bylaw officers to enforce provincial health orders prohibiting gatherings of 50 or more people, since bylaw officers have now been given the authority to impose fines for such offences.
Those who wish to access information about the coronavirus pandemic or believe they have symptoms of COVID-19 can call 778-600-0240 or visit www.covidlangford.com.