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Skagit County 911 system struggles with understaffing

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(THINKSTOCK FILE PHOTO)

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) — Skagit County’s 911 system is struggling with understaffing and forced overtime that can increase employee stress and burnout.

The Skagit Valley Herald reports that the approximately 30 workers at the emergency dispatch center worked 17,000 hours of overtime last year, and they’re on pace for similar hours this year.

Director Helen Rasmussen says mandated overtime and a budget that is too tight for equipment upgrades are compounding the stress dispatchers face. She says the center would need 39 dispatchers to avoid mandated OT, but it’s only budgeted for 33 positions, and because of high burnout and high turnover the center typically only has 30 on staff at any given time.

Dispatcher Melissa Heller says she regularly misses family events and has to choose between sleep and exercise.

County council members say they’re aware of the problem and working to fix it.