Billings Clinic COVID vax appointments see high demand, hospital to hire call center to answer phones

Appointments available Tuesday and Wednesday
Posted at 5:09 PM, Jan 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-26 15:38:21-05

BILLINGS — In the first three and a half hours of business Monday, staff at the Billings Clinic were overwhelmed with about 27,000 calls from people wanting to be vaccinated for COVID-19, said Dr. Scott Ellner, clinic CEO.

“The volume of calls has really tested Billings Clinic. We’ve added about 35 people to our call center and that’s just not enough," Ellner said during a press call Monday afternoon.

Ellner said the clinic will work with a third party to help answer the phones. Some waited on the line Monday for more than 30 minutes.

“We’re just totally overwhelmed here with our own resources. We still have to schedule patients for surgery, for clinics, for transfers. So, we feel that it would be important to have someone that deals with these types of heavy call volume events and to set it up separately," Ellner said.

Ellner said staff were choosing a third party call-answering service to use on Monday and the goal is to cut down on the time people spend waiting on the phone.

This week, the state was allocated 13,500 doses of COVID-19 vaccine. Billings Clinic received 975 doses of Pfizer vaccine this week, the same allocation the hospital received when the vaccine first arrived in Billings in December last year.

Demand for the vaccine still far outweighs supply in Yellowstone County, Ellner said.

"I’m not surprised by the level of enthusiasm and interest in getting vaccinated and it’s a good sign that people are understanding that the vaccine will help us get through this pandemic much sooner if a majority of people develop that herd immunity that we’ve heard about,” Ellner said.

Billings Clinic has the capacity to vaccinate 120 people per hour, if it had the doses to do so. Ellner said the clinic requested 2,000 doses per week.

“There’s no one out there to point a finger at. It’s just literally the demand is outpacing the supply," Ellner said.

New and past patients at Billings Clinic can schedule an appointment to get a vaccine. The congestion Monday centered around medical record numbers.

Once a person has a medical record number, they can schedule a vaccine appointment online through the clinic's PatientConnect portal. People were on the phone trying to find their medical record number, causing the delay.

Past patients can find their medical record number on their last billing statement or call the records department at 406-435-5744. New patients can also call the records department to acquire a number.

Last week, the clinic was scheduling vaccine appointments for the entire week. Now, staff are scheduling on a three-day basis on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Staff said appointments are available for Tuesday and Wednesday this week. The phone lines open at 8 a.m. sharp both days.

RELATED: Yellowstone Co. health officer: First week of newest vax phase booked solid at Billings hospitals