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Keeping Tucson 911 Center staffed

Tucson working to reduce stress, improve conditions
Posted at 7:31 PM, Jul 28, 2023

TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Your life can be on the line when you need to call 911—and the stress you feel at that moment, 911 operators may feel every day. Now Tucson’s 911 center is working to help operators cope with stress to help reduce staff turnover.

It’s no exaggeration to say 911 operators work a life or death job. Sometimes the pressure is highest when they see a bit of themselves in the person on the other end of the line.

Center Director Sharon McDonough says, “Some calls are super obvious. Other calls just depend on what I've witnessed in my own life or what my own little trigger points might be. And now a call comes along and really affects our folks.”

Rather than let the stress grind down and drive off good workers, the city is working to retain a strong staff, with an exercise room to burn off the stress before it leads to burn out. There is a room to ease off and decompress, and a place to take note and give thanks for the glimmers of good in the world.

The department is working to tap into the same sort of behavioral health resources Tucson Police have available to them.

Director Sharon McDonough says Tucson’s 911 department has not completely beat the staff shortage that affects centers across the country but the changes have helped attract and retain enough people to make the center’s staffing the best it’s ever been.

Part of the effort to retain good workers is to offer more chance to advance. That helped Karla Cota become a supervisor a few months ago after five years on the phones.

She appreciates positive changes in the department but she says the impact her work can have is a big part of what keeps her at 911.

She says, “It is a very stressful job, but it's a very rewarding job. Every call that I take, it's one at a time. So you're helping save lives, one call at a time. And that's what I focus on. Even though it may be a stressful job. It's definitely rewarding.”