Emergency phone system fails
People will die, elder warns, after his calls go unanswered

by Arthur Milnes
Northern News Services

FORT SIMPSON (Sep 12/97) - Fort Simpson's Leo Norwegian says his death was only a phone call away last weekend.

Norwegian, 76, and a life-long area resident, says he spent more than four hours trying to get through to the new Deh Cho Health and Social Services after-hours phone number on Sunday.

While working in his garden, Norwegian felt chest pains. Making it into his home, he phoned the number that has been posted throughout Fort Simpson since Sept. 1.

"I let it ring for 20 times or more and nobody answered," he said in a tape of his recollections submitted to the xxxDrum.

Norwegian says he started to make his calls -- a total of six in all -- over a period of four hours beginning at 8:30 Sunday morning.

His chest still hurting, he drove to the seniors centre, where he says staff there told him they didn't know how to reach a nurse either.

Eventually, he contacted emergency services co-ordinator Peter Shaw, who drove him to the health centre. Once there, sources say Shaw also had no success when trying the emergency number.

Eventually, Shaw drove the elder to the RCMP detachment -- which luckily had officers inside and not out on patrol -- where one member had to use the phone book in order to track down nurses.

RCMP told the xxxDrum Tuesday that they have never officially been advised of new phone numbers and procedures in place since the changes to health services in Fort Simpson took effect Sept. 1.

Mounties succeeded in reaching medical personnel and two nurses were on the scene in minutes.

"It's not the nurses' fault -- I'm grateful to them," Norwegian said. "It's this crazy system ... I was lucky it wasn't my heart."

"What if it was someone with a knife wound or a gunshot wound? They would have died."

"This new system, if that is how it is going to be, it is going to kill a lot of people. A lot of people are going to die."

In a separate incident, Yellowknife's Stanton Regional Hospital also contacted RCMP Sunday, unable to reach a nurse in Fort Simpson.

"It was a technical problem," said Faye Stark, senior nursing officer with Deh Cho Health and Social Services. "We thought NorthwesTel's phone call forwarding system had it all in place."

Stark said that other emergency calls did go through over the weekend.

"We weren't aware until these situations occurred that the line was malfunctioning," she said. "The work order was in place (with NorthwesTel) first thing Monday and we're hoping it will be fixed today (Tuesday)."

"It's a technical problem and I'm a nurse," she said. "We're trying to do our best."