Monday, June 4, 2012


Back in the late 1980's, I worked for a federal M.P. in Ottawa. I was the lone Newfoundland native on the staff.  More often, than not, I was the go to guy when the staff could not decipher the thick accent on the other end of the line.

To this day, I pride myself on being able to tell where a person is from based on their accent.  No doubt, some of the accents along the South coast can be tricky to understand. In a political office, you have time to work through the problem and make sense of it all, but what if the call was about life and death, one's ability to understand local dialects might be critical.

Eastern Health may be outsourcing it's poison control hotline!

Is it a big deal to have a phone service outsourced? Will client services be affected?

The first thing that came to my mind is how can the province condemn the transfer of coast guard radio services to Halifax from St. John's if they support outsourcing health information lines to other jurisdictions?

The service provides advice on how to deal with concerns about children who might have been poisoned or taken too much of a prescription drug.

I know, you might be thinking I am off my rocker, grasping at straws to be critical of Eastern Health or the provincial government.

One of the arguments made by those who lobbied to keep the coast guard services in St. Johns was local knowledge.  Most importantly, locals understand local accents, jargon and names. Imagine an operator on the mainland trying to maneuver through the dropped H's, the fast panicked vanacular of a spooked parent. The operator might as well be dealing with a call from a foreign nation.

I for one am not convinced that a 1-800 line staffed by mainlanders is going to an efficient solution for panicked parents in this province.


Anonymous said...

You have hundreds if not thousands of local persons working at local call centres who on a daily basis deal with local accent and knowledge issues. It is no big deal for them and it is not big deal to outsource that work if justifiable. What gets me is that it cannot be awarded to a local call centre business.

Wm. Murphy said...

Peter...just indulge me for a second and explain how thousands of Newfoundlanders deal everyday with the thick accents of doctors practising in this province?
There are hundreds of doctors under the employ of Hospitals that are from countries all over the world. From thick Indian accents to Chinese accents there are many. To my knowledge people have adapted well and learned how to deal with what's in front of them. The comparison of the sub centre is off base...the argument was mostly based on local nuances and geography. For instance the presence of 20+ Seal Coves and numerous Mary's Harbours is what is at play for that argument. The accent issue will pass. While it is not life and death....I too have struggled with IT support and Air Canada baggage from an Indian call Centre..but
still managed to ya you are grasping at straws and off your rocker on this argument

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I have difficulty understanding some people from my province. In most instances, it has little to do with dialects and more to do with poor grammer or simply speaking too fast (tumbling over their words).

I guess I will get hate mail now.

Peter L. Whittle said...

Outsourcing to a local call center might be more acceptable. All I can say is that through personal experience, an excited person dealing with a stressful situation is hard enough to understand without throwing a thick dialect into the mix.

The priority should be care and prompt service, if language has the potential to be a barrier than the corporation needs to find a way to meet it's goal with compromising the purpose of the line.

Poor grammar, dialects, speaking to fast are all reality. You can not change that on an emergency line when some frantic person is trying to get assistance because a child swallowed a household cleaning product or a prescription drug.

Murphy, IT support or finding your lost baggage is not at all comparable to a life and death emergency related to a poisoning.

That said my original point is that it is hypocritical of the government to promote outsourcing of a poison control line while arguing that local knowledge of accents was an issue in the closure of local coast guard radio/S&R services.

Peter L. Whittle said...

"The comparison of the sub centre is off base.."

Hey Murphy it was not me that was comparing Quebec's unique culture and language to ours in that debate. The knowledge of the local geography was indeed an argument, but so was language.

Anonymous said...

1. There are a lot of emergency room and clinic doctors who are almost impossible to understand.

2. It is much easier to diagnosis and talk to a distressed person about an issue even with a language gap. Body language and compassion can calm a distressed person down. Over the phone the communication gap is much harder to bridge.

3. Peter has a good point. Why is it unacceptable in one case but okay in the other. If those answering the callers can not understand what is being said it will only make for more frustration.