COBB COUNTY, Ga. — A severe nationwide staffing shortage is forcing Cobb County dispatch to make difficult choices about who picks up when someone calls 911.
For Tina Rutledge, who lives hundreds of miles away in retirement, her heart is still at the Cobb County 911 call center.
She retired early, just a year before she was fully vested because she said she couldn't bear to stay.
Rutledge is just one of 36 Cobb County operators who quit in the last year. That's nearly 20% of the entire workforce at the center.
"I've spoken to some that are just done. They're tired, they're burnt out. They're starting to have anxiety issues are starting to have depression issues. They don't feel heard. They don't feel validated," she said.
The center had to combine radio channels for police officers trying to reach dispatch because they didn't have enough operators.
"You're overwhelming those dispatchers. There's only so much they can do. Those officers may not be able to get out with some heavy radio traffic and that will start causing physical and mental health issues with your operators is just -- is just too much, it's dangerous," she said.
11Alive took Rutledge's concerns directly to the 911 director in Cobb County.
"Our job is extremely stressful, we deal with somebody's crisis on their worst day. We are the voice of authority to lead them out of that crisis. But it also comes at a great risk to mental wellness," Cobb 911 Director Melissa Alterio said in a statement.
Alterio took over as director of the department 18 months ago. She said she had to make the hard choice to combine radio channels for police officers to keep the lines staffed. Alterio stated the Federal Communications Commission allows up to 100 officers on the channel, they're averaging around 25. The director added there has never been a time when an officer couldn't get through.
She said the center did three things to immediately address safety concerns caused by the staffing shortage:
- Offered incentives for operators to stay
- Eliminated the testing requirement in the application process
- Focused on the mental health of operators at the center by keeping a counselor on staff.
Beyond her efforts, she said the office is also aggressively recruiting new operators.
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