A heart attack in the middle of the night and no phone service: how one woman responded

Couple calls for cell service to be deemed essential

By Janice Christie, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
October 28 2020

HARRIGAN COVE – Beverly Ledden’s husband woke her at 1 a.m. on August 27 and said, “Ambulance. I am having a heart attack.”

She called 911, routed through her online phone service, but all Bell landlines in the area were down at the time. The couple cannot get a cell signal at home in Harrigan Cove.

Ledden had found the cost of a landline expensive and opted instead for a computer-based line. Her ‘Magic Jack’ line accepted the 911 call and its U.S. headquarters transferred the call back to the local landline provider in Canada, which in this case is Bell. Since Bell was down, the emergency call was not successfully forwarded. Calling neighbours for help from her Magic Jack line was futile, as their Bell landlines were out.

“On August 26-27 we had no landline available to us and no 911 service. My husband, who had a heart attack that morning on Aug 27, was very fortunate we got help,” she told The Journal during a recent interview.

Ledden was able to get him into their car before he passed out and drove to the nearest community, Port Dufferin, where there was intermittent cell service in front of the SR Balcom Centre. With one bar on her cell phone, she was able to reach the 911 service for help.

Now Ledden is lobbying politicians to deem cell service an essential service one for all Nova Scotians.

She wrote, in part, to Councillor David Hendsbee, District 2, HRM:

“I had to put my husband in the car and drive until I had cell phone service. Bell has the only phone service on the Eastern Shore with landlines. Cell is non-existent …. If even one life could be saved by having these essential services that would be enough.”

During the emergency, Ledden had the presence of mind to give her husband an aspirin at home and then Emergency Health Services transported him to Eastern Shore Memorial Hospital (ESMH) – where – fortunately – the emergency department happened to be open. Due to COVID restrictions she was unable to accompany her husband at the hospital.

Mr. Ledden was stabilized at ESMH and was then transferred to the QEII in Halifax.

“He had three stents put in the left descending arterial artery and, thankfully, is recovering nicely,” Ledden says.

“I was very lucky to get him in the car before he lost consciousness and get to where I could get cell service.”

Ledden says for residents of rural Nova Scotia, essential services must be a priority, including cell service.

“We have lobbied for Internet and did have some success in a number of communities with fibre-op service – but for just a small portion of the folks who live on the Eastern Shore. I have an Internet phone as the price of Bell Aliant with long distance is reaching the $100 mark. Although we are in the HRM, even dialing companies, doctors or any other services in Halifax are long distance,” she explains.

The convenience and cost of the Internet phone was appealing, as the couple have all the services they were getting from Bell Aliant – and even long distance in North America – for less than $6 a month.

For peace of mind, at 8 a.m. on Aug. 27, Ledden called Bell to have a landline installed.

Katie Hatfield, Bell Aliant spokesperson, told The Journal in an email: “We first heard from Ms. Ledden on the morning of August 27 following her husband’s health issue … We connected her residence with Bell Aliant service the same day.”

Ledden travelled to the city to be with her husband and, when she returned, she discovered she still had no Bell connection. It was a week later before the couple had a landline dial tone.

“We heard back from Ms. Ledden on August 31 to report that there was no dial tone, and we scheduled a technician visit for the following day, September 1. Due to a scheduling issue on our end, the repair was completed on September 3. We don’t have any records of any further service issues at Ms. Ledden’s home, but we did speak to her on September 25 about some billing concerns and credited her account for a month of free service for the inconvenience,” said Hatfield.

“There is no cell service along the Eastern Shore except if you are fortunate enough to get a weak signal or have no landscape (hills and valleys) in the way,” says Ledden. “Since the storm Dorian went through last year and put us off the grid for phone service and Internet, we have been experiencing outages and poor lines with our phone service from the only landline provider in many areas. Trees on lines and poles being pulled over have become very hard on our landlines.”

“October 7 we also had no Bell landlines for approximately 24 hours again,” an exasperated Ledden says.

The cost continues to rise but the service does not change.

“For $97 a month, I now have a landline from Bell Aliant – as well as my Magic Jack Internet phone and a cell phone I can only use in certain communities. Really, if the communication lines are out your call to 911 will not go through. Cell service should be considered an essential service to everyone not just those who live in populous areas. Every life should count,” she advocates.