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Booking system errors impact NOTL residents

Rene and Annie Bertschi have vaccination appointments this week in St. Catharines, but were disturbed to find there were no bookings available in NOTL. That, however, seems to have been a glitch in the system.
Rene and Annie Bertschi have vaccination appointments this week in St. Catharines, but were disturbed to find there were no bookings available in NOTL. That, however, seems to have been a glitch in the system. (Photo supplied)

UPDATE: THIS EMAIL WAS SENT TO Lord Mayor Betty and Regional Coun. Gary Zalepa Saturday morning from Dr. Mustafa Hirji: I’m writing to let you know that the province has fixed the glitch in the provincial booking system that was making the April 9 vaccination clinic in NOTL invisible. If you have residents contacting you or channels where you can highlight this clinic, please do let them know. We have over 400 spots available there.

A glitch in the provincial vaccination booking system came to light last week that affected local residents in the 80-plus age group, and another error may also have been discovered Monday for the 75-plus applications, both uncovered thanks to local couples.

Residents in the 80-plus age group who have booked their vaccination at the Niagara-on-the-Lake community centre should check their appointment date to ensure it is for one of the correct dates, either March 31, April 1 or April 9.

And if anyone in the 75-and up age group trying to book an appointment through the online booking system discovered the NOTL clinics are full, that might also have been an error — or at least it was Monday. 

Edith and Peter Klassen called The Local last Wednesday evening, March 17, to explain they thought they had booked appointments at the Anderson Lane community centre for April 7, only to find there are no clinics in NOTL that day. 

They had called the provincial phone number to straighten out the question of dates, but got nowhere, other than to have their appointment confirmed for April 7 at the community centre.

They were sure there must be an error, but didn’t know whether it was in the appointment schedule or the booking system, and they weren’t sure how to find out.

A series of phone calls and emails seems to have brought some resolution, but an unknown number of local residents may have appointments for an incorrect date of either April 7 or April 8, when there are no clinics being held in NOTL.

A very concerned and cooperative woman reached through the Ontario booking system phone number last Wednesday first surmised the Niagara schedule had possibly changed since the regional schedule was released. She eventually acknowledged that the error must have been in the booking system. She could see that several other people had also booked for incorrect dates, but she couldn’t say how many.

Lord Mayor Betty Disero was made aware of the error, as was the region’s public health staff, but it was up to the province to fix it.

Disero was told the province would be contacting those residents to rebook, but in a video released Thursday, she suggested residents rebook, rather than wait.

The glitch of dates not matching locations had apparently occurred and been corrected in other places, the lord mayor was told, but not in NOTL, at least not that anyone had reported until Wednesday evening.

Peter was able to rebook their appointments, and he and Edith headed to the MacBain Centre in Niagara Falls last Friday for their vaccinations — although not until Peter visited his barber for the first time in six weeks, he said,  where they were very pleased with how smooth the process was.

The number of phone calls that went back and forth to correct their situation, Peter said, “provided enough material for a one act play.” 

The Local was told by the region that any answers about a resolution to that problem, such as when and how it was resolved and how many residents were impacted, would have to come from the province. When contacted last Thursday, The Local was told an answer would be forthcoming ASAP, first that day, and again on Monday morning, but at press time Tuesday, despite those assurances, no information had been provided.

Another error appears to affect those who may have tried to book appointments for the 75 and over age group through the booking system Monday morning.

Rene Bertschi contacted The Local to say he had tried to make a vaccination date at the NOTL clinic site Monday morning, when registration opened to his age group, but couldn’t. After phoning the booking system number, he was told they were all booked.

He was frustrated to learn that after waiting almost an hour on the phone, there weren’t enough appointments available in a town with such a high seniors population. Instead, he and his wife Annie were able to get dates for this week at the Seymour Hannah vaccination centre in St. Catharines. “This is great. It doesn’t matter to me where we go,” he said, adding he and his wife Annie will be happy to see their 10-year-old grandson, whom they haven’t seen in months. But he was concerned and surprised that for those who wanted their vaccination clinic close by, within the radius the region had promised, there were no dates available.

“For a town with our seniors population, there should be a lot more than 1,500 appointments for NOTL. I bet if you calculated just those 75 and over, there would be at least 5,000.”

However later that day, Dr. Mustafa Hirji said there were still appointments available at most clinics across the region, including NOTL.

Trying to sort out the discrepancy, a regional representative said there were appointments available for the April 9 clinic. “Based on a couple of pieces of information we’re received, we are exploring with the province whether there is an error that is preventing people from registering for that April 9 clinic,” she said.

About the Author: Penny Coles

Penny Coles is editor of Niagara-on-the-Lake Local
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