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Morgan County 911 Center: Who’s going to pick up the call when there is a staffing shortage?

“You have a constant emotional rollercoaster for 12 hours a day,”
Published: Jun. 23, 2021 at 7:45 PM CDT
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MORGAN CO., Ala. (WAFF) - Cities throughout the country are struggling to find 911 dispatchers, and Morgan County is no exception.

”You have a constant emotional rollercoaster for 12 hours a day,” said director Jeanie Pharis.

Pharis says being a dispatcher is a difficult job, and finding people to do it is a problem. In Morgan County, there were originally six open positions, now, four have been filled.

“When we have somebody leave, it takes us several months to have another trained employee to be able to fill that spot,” said Pharis.

Being short-staffed can have a negative impact on current dispatchers. Pharis says her employees are exhausted from having to pick up extra calls and shifts.

“We deal with lives, we deal with saving lives and every second is important. Having correct address information, and obtaining information that is correct. We can’t afford those mistakes because you’re talking about the difference in somebody possibly being alive and somebody not,” said Pharis.

Pharis believes the dispatchers should be considered first responders, and have the benefits to match it, especially in terms of mental health. Nationally, the 911 SAVES ACT bill would do just that.

“The goal in this isn’t as much the title of first responders as it is being able to better support our 911 workers so that they are also receiving benefits for mental health, as well as retirements and a little more of an equal pay scale for what many responders make,” said Pharis.

Pharis says added benefits and higher pay, would make the dispatch center a more competitive workplace when it comes to recruiting. It would also mean the people in Morgan County have access to the help they need, if and when they need it.

“When you dial 911 you’re wanting your call to be answered right away, and if we have that person our call taker on a 911 call they may not be able to get to the next 911 call as quickly as they need to,” said Pharis.

The 911 SAVES ACT was debated in both the House and the Senate but has not been passed. Pharis says staff members at the Morgan County center are doing what they can to make sure no one is stretched too thin.

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