SLO County hires more people to work COVID-19 appointment call center

The COVID-19 vaccine
Posted at 6:59 PM, Feb 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-19 00:36:14-05

COVID-19 appointments in San Luis Obispo County filled up in less than an hour Thursday morning, leaving some who aren't as computer savvy or who do not have internet access frustrated.

"[If people] aren't able to make an appointment themselves, they can call the Phone Assistance Center (Call Center) and we have a staff full of people there that are willing to sit online, help them figure it out, or just to make the appointment themselves," said Michelle Shoresman, SLO County's COVID-19 Response Media Liaison.

The Phone Assistance Center was put in place after the previous system was receiving too many calls and putting too many people on hours-long holds. Now, there are more than 15 staff members who help people sign up for their appointments or navigate the website.

She explained, "Initially, we had just been using a voice-over-internet protocol phone system, like we have here for all of our phones here in the county, with a certain number of lines associated with it. When we realized that that wasn’t enough to handle the call volume, we began using a call center system. We actually have a call center system here. The calls come in, if there isn’t a person available to answer the call, then the calls all go into a queue and they sit there and wait rather than getting a busy signal until the next receiver is available to take their call," Shoresman explained.

She told us they hired three more people to work in the Call Center this week.

Linda, a senior who lives in Pismo Beach, told us, "There's a whole population out here that don't have computers for various reasons: one being seniors, especially seniors with disabilities."

She identified as disabled with a sight impairment and discussed how difficult it was for her to see a computer or a smartphone screen to sign up for the vaccine.

She was able to receive her first dose this past week after calling and waiting in line in the queue for about an hour.

"I was one of the lucky ones who was able to get in yesterday for the first vaccine. I just wanted to let you know, unfortunately, some of my friends here in the same mobile home park here in Pismo Beach did not make it through the phones to get an appointment."

The amount of available appointments depends on the number of vaccines available.

Each week, San Luis Obispo County receives shipments of the doses and makes allotments for appointments accordingly. They announce the appointments every Thursday at 9 a.m. and oftentimes fill up before noon.

However, many people eligible for vaccines have underlying conditions that may make it difficult to sign up for their appointments.

Similarly, many people may have reduced or little access to a computer or phone because of lack of financial resources, a lack of familiarity, or because of the impact the pandemic has had on their household. As a result, the county reserves 25% of vaccine appointments for people who sign up over the phone.

Still, people can wait for hours and not be able to get an appointment because of the low volume of vaccines.

On Thursday, the health department tweeted that it's Call Center was overwhelmed by callers.

The county's Phone Assistance Center is open every day from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. and can be reached at (805) 543-2444 or (805) 781-4280, or on their website.