MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Staffing shortages have been a common and at times debilitating side effect of the pandemic. Mecklenburg County, like many other communities across the country, is facing a 911 operator shortage.
When someone dials 911, they are counting on a dispatcher to answer the call quickly. The MEDIC call center gets about 500 calls a day.
“When a caller calls into 911, it is not their best day," Jon Studnek, the Deputy Director of MEDIC said. "They’re afraid, they’re concerned, they might be scared and anxious."
Right now, the MEDIC call center is short seven dispatchers. They’re supposed to have a staff of 40. Seven people also typically fill a standard shift.
The vacancies are forcing mandatory overtime to fill some of the gaps.
“To get the information we need to have a rapid and appropriate response takes a really special person doing really special work,” Studnek said. “Being short-staffed just increases the stress of the people who are here managing those high acuity 911 calls.”
Studnek said there are measures in place to make sure every call is picked up quickly, so a caller doesn’t sit and wait. That way, the community will not feel the impact of the shortage. But still, the workers are.
They’re facing similar, persisting staffing issues with medics and EMTs. Right now, they have 60 openings for people to work in the field. They are budgeted to staff 374 field providers and only have 314 on staff right now.
FEMA recently sent five ambulances and 10 workers to relieve some of the pressure for six weeks.
Now FEMA is gone and call volumes are going up again. On Monday, MEDIC transported 15 COVID-19 positive patients, up from two or three each day two weeks ago.
It’s a rewarding but difficult job, But Studnek said fewer people are getting into the field. Their attrition rates are normal but they do not have the backfill they typically do. They’re working on strategies to attract more candidates.
“We’re working really closely with our partners in Mecklenburg County to focus on both recruitment bonuses and retention bonuses,” he said. “And we’re developing strategies on how we can bring in employees and stay competitive in the market.”
MEDIC officials said the staffing shortages have not caused response times to slip.
They’re also reminding people to only call 911 if it’s a true medical emergency.