AUGUSTA — Sally Bullard was one of the lucky ones.

She was originally given a vaccine date and location last week in Presque Isle and was going to make the trip up, but snowy weather forced her to cancel her trip.

She was forced to try again, closer to her home in Farmingdale.

Using both her landline and her cellphone, Bullard, 70, was able to make her way through the 400,000 calls made to MaineGeneral on Friday and secure her COVID-19 vaccination appointment.

She expects to be there bright and early Thursday to finally get the vaccine.

“It took 15 minutes, then the operator said that the next available representative will talk to you,” she said. “Long story short, after three hours and 40 minutes, I was connected. The first thing I did was give them my callback number. I felt lucky I was able to secure Thursday morning.”

Bullard’s experience came after many people 70 or older in central Maine reported having trouble signing up to get their coronavirus vaccine through MaineGeneral. The Bangor Daily News reported Sunday that 40 people who were signed up to get the first doses of the vaccine at MaineGeneral were donors, retired doctors, staff members or volunteers.

Joy McKenna, spokeswoman for MaineGeneral, said Monday the 40 people were part of a “‘Day in the Life’ test of the process,” and 12 of the 40 were donors.

“We reached out to 40 people associated with the organization — former employees, former volunteers and others who met the age-70-or-older criteria, many of whom are familiar with the ‘Day in the Life’ exercise that we have done — to help us see if our planning held up in practice,” McKenna said. “These people fit in the 1B CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention) guidelines.”

Phase 1B started Feb. 1 and includes Mainers 70 0r older, adults of all ages with high-risk medical conditions and certain front-line workers.

MaineGeneral had 480 slots for vaccines Friday, according to McKenna, including the 40 reserved for people connected to the hospital.

Eight to 12 people were working the hospital’s telephone lines and each call took at least 10 minutes. The vaccination slots were filled by 3 p.m., McKenna said. Those people are set to receive the vaccine Monday.

“We did find one area of improvement that should help shorten up the calls that are received with the software that we have,” McKenna said. “We are also working diligently to find an overall process.”

While some callers are now scheduled to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, others were not as fortunate.

Ann Carrigan, 73, of Winslow called and got through, but gave up after being on hold for three hours.

“I ran out of patience and hung up,” she said.

Carrigan began calling at 7 a.m., before the scheduled time of 8 a.m. She said after she hung up, she kept calling periodically until 3:30 p.m., when she got the call that the slots were filled.

Barbara Coriell, 70, of Winthrop called MaineGeneral’s COVID-19 vaccine registration line 400 times Friday to set up an appointment. She did not get through.

“The thing that really frustrated me is that you had no idea how long they’re going to be taking calls,” she said. “There were different types of busy signals until 10:30 a.m. That indicated to me that they weren’t taking calls.”

Nikhil Pathak, a retired, 76-year-old doctor from Augusta, said he began dialing five minutes before lines opened at 8 a.m.

“For the next two to four hours, I sat at the table like a stupid person and dialed 100 times,” Pathak said. “Somebody must have screwed up and the system crashed.”

The next registration time will be posted on the MaineGeneral website — www.mainegeneral.org — sometime this week.

Bullard said she did not think it would take four hours to get through, and she would have appreciated knowing where she was in line.

Pathak compared issues with the vaccine registration process to difficulties 10 years ago signing up for the Affordable Care Act. Given the length of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Pathak said he thought MaineGeneral had ample time to plan for taking registrations.

“They had time to think,” he said. “I was reading their website last week, and they were preparing it. They have been ready, not just planning it.”

Coriell said the system suffered from a “super lack of communication,” and each call was an entry into a lottery for a dose of the vaccine.

“It’s not like you build up points after your hundredth call,” she said. “Whoever thought this would be an effective way to handle this should be locked in a room with a busy signal playing continuously.”

Further, Coriell said she was frustrated there was no message informing callers no more appointments were available.

“Are we just supposed to keep calling for the next two or three weeks?” Coriell asked, adding the vaccine registration system might have worked better if accessed through the MaineGeneral website, instead of having to call in and dictate information to those answering telephones.

“For heaven’s sake, how inefficient is that?” Coriell said. “You would think there is no such thing as email. You would think there’s no such thing as the internet.”

Coriell said she did not want to “blast” MaineGeneral, given how the pandemic has created new pressures and an unusual environment.

“We are people out there, and it would be really nice if you would treat us with a little consideration and try to up your communications,” Coriell said. “It is frustrating, and people have been through a (lot) of stress this year.”

Friday’s registration was the first step last week in local, small vaccination clinics, when MaineGeneral was one of seven organizations in the state “preparing to begin scheduling appointments.” McKenna said several issues, including staffing, the vaccine supply and available locations, hampered efforts to open clinics.

McKenna said last week MaineGeneral was in talks with the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention to find a location for mass vaccination clinics, which have not been opened anywhere else in the state.

Registering for the COVID-19 vaccine could become easier with the rollout of a statewide registration system, which Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, discussed last week during a press briefing.

Shah and other state officials say the vaccine supply remains the biggest impediment to getting Mainers inoculated.

The state is receiving about 18,000 doses each week from the federal government. Shah said last week Maine was “extremely supply constrained,” given the state has more than 190,000 residents who are 70 or older.

Kennebec Journal reporter Sam Shepherd contributed to this report.

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