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'We do have an issue': York County 911 Center still struggling to fill positions

An employee talks with a co-worker at the York County 911 Center Monday, July 31, 2017. County spokesman Mark Walters and lead training supervisor Roxie Tate talked with the media Monday, Feb. 26 regarding recent problems with the center's paging system. Bill Kalina photo

The York County 911 Center is severely understaffed, and a local police chief said it's affecting response time.

While understaffing has been a problem for years at the center — the county spent nearly $1 million over three years on outside consultants and audits to address the problem — Steve Mullen, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of County and Municipal Employees, said it's getting more acute.

The issue came up Monday at the Wrightsville Borough Council meeting during Hellam Township Police Chief J. Douglas Pollock's monthly report.

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“York County 911 right now is operating on less than half of their complement," he told the council. A call “came in, and it literally took four minutes for them to even dispatch the call."

On Tuesday, Pollock declined to elaborate but said the center is "working very hard to turn things around."

The 911 center is budgeted for 78 dispatchers but currently has 49 total, with 35 being full time, seven being part time and seven being trainees, according to 911 director Matthew Hobson, who was hired last year.

Matthew Hobson, the new director at the York County 911 Center, was introduced to the community at a meet-and greet at the center Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. Hobson started the job Feb. 10. Bill Kalina photo

The dispatchers work 12-hour shifts, alternating between 60-hour weeks and 48-hour weeks, and that's not including overtime, Mullen said. "They're burning themselves out, really."

Some union members have reported not being able to take time off, he added.

“Who wants to go work at a place where you’re not going to be able to get off for your kid’s birthday?” said Mullen, whose union is in contract negotiations with the county.

The core problem is that the center doesn't have enough employees, he said. To attract more people, the county will have to make jobs at the center more appealing.

"I believe that both the commissioners and the union want to resolve the recruitment/retention problems at the 911 center, and I think that working together, we'll be able to do that or at least put us on a path to making it better there," Mullen said.

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Hobson said the county is trying to improve recruitment by advertising on additional professional websites, on the radio, on police and fire social media pages and through word of mouth.

But county Commissioner Ron Smith, who made the 911 center a key issue in his 2019 campaign, said the center has more of a retention issue than a recruitment problem.

York County Commissioner Ron Smith
Wednesday, September 16, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

The hiring process entails advertising the position, receiving interest, holding information sessions, holding classes and training new employees, he noted, and not all of the new hires make it through to the end.

"So our hope is that if we get a class of 10, we're going to keep 10 and get them to the floor, but that's not always the case," Smith said.

While acknowledging the "situation at hand" and saying county officials are "doing everything we can to alleviate the situation," Smith noted other communities across the country also are having trouble staffing 911 centers.

The county has addressed the problem with the Fraternal Order of Police, the Fire Chiefs and Firefighters Association of York County and other organizations, according to President Commissioner Julie Wheeler.

"We've been transparent with the organizations that 911 supports that we do have an issue and that we're working on those issues," she said.