Central Dispatch is experiencing an increase in resignations due to schedule changes brought on by continuous understaffing issues.

Director of Grant County Central Dispatch Kevin Hicks has received numerous resignation letters from dispatch workers over the past few months, which has been reported to the commissioners during multiple meetings.

The increase in resignations caused the department to alter the schedule for current full-time employees. The new schedule consists of 12-hour shifts that have sparked some full-time employees to recently switch to part-time work or resign.

Some of the dispatchers offered to work 16-hour shifts in exchange for the department not requiring them to work on their day off, but the department seemed apprehensive at the idea due to the shortage of coverage.

Dispatch has historically tried to keep at least four employees in the call center at all times to maintain efficiency and to ensure that emergency calls are dealt with properly.

Due to the decrease in full-time workers, only three dispatchers will be working at a time, which is cause for concern for Hicks.

“We’ve come up with three days on and three days off. The issue with that is that will only put three dispatchers in the com center at any one time, which we’ve always had four in there,” said Hicks. “We’re working with our part-timers to cover as much of that fourth position as possible. We’ll be offering up overtime to those who want it. I’m going to try to not have to force or mandate overtime if there’s three people there, but if we only have two people, we are going to have to address that because we really shouldn’t do three – it’s doable – but we can’t do it with two.”

Part-time workers will be utilized to cover the fourth position, but they have limited hours they can work to maintain their part-time status without receiving benefits.

Other dispatchers are on leave due to maternity or medical leave, which also affects the scheduling. One part-time worker will take maternity leave in the next few weeks, and one full-time worker was on medical leave, returned for two days and was placed back on medical leave.

Hicks volunteered to cover different shifts himself if needed. However, the department does not see this as a long-term solution to the issue as Hicks is needed elsewhere throughout the week.

Hicks has stood before county officials in previous meetings and highlighted incoming applicants who are currently being screened for employment. Only two of the candidates have prior dispatch experience, so training may be lengthier for those without experience.

“I was only going to hire three until I got that last resignation that started the 12-hour shifts,” said Hicks. “Once I got that one, I was at a point where we’ve got to hire them.”

Hicks has met with auditor Jim McWhirt and chief deputy Angie Jarvis last week and it appears that the budget will cover the new hires, but Hicks may appear before the council again in December to request some additional funding to get the department through the rest of the year.

Hicks highlighted his previous interactions with the commissioners and presented how the commissioners approved a plan to pay dispatchers for any unused vacation and personal time through the end of the year.

Hicks will present this approval at the upcoming council meeting on Nov. 16. Hicks hopes that the council will approve the payout as the department was already denied a request to carry over the hours to 2022 due to county policy.

If the payout is not approved, Hicks stated that dispatchers will be utilizing the hours before the end of the year. In conjunction with the dispatchers already on leave, this will complicate the staffing issue even further into 2022.

“We’ve got some that are well over 50 hours,” said Hicks. “The thought is, if they have 50 hours now plus what they get next year, how are they going to spend 100 hours of vacation time?”

The dispatch board stressed that the shortage has been affecting departments across the nation and is not an isolated incident. Once the training for the four incoming candidates is completed, Hicks ensured the board that more applicants will be brought in for screening.
Copyright © 2022 Chronicle-Tribune