Winnipeg’s emergency call center employees are struggling and suffering from burnout, according to the city’s police chief.
“It’s a stressful place to work, they’re 24 hours a day, they often go through the experience with callers who are often in crisis, and I’m just starting to see signs that we can’t stay status quo,” said Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth.
The volume of calls to the 911 call center has increased by approximately 4% each year. Currently, calls average around 600,000 and by 2025, that number is expected to be over 800,000.
“I’m seeing more sick leaves coming out of the center now than we’ve ever seen,” Smyth said. “More evidence of stress injuries where people are away for longer periods of stress.”
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Sick leave has increased by 176% over the past five years and overtime has increased by 100% over the same period.
And the problem is exacerbated by the fact that people have to come in on a day off and work overtime to fill some of the vacancies created by stress-related leave and sick calls.
Additionally, 30 percent of new hires leave during the probationary period and over the past 10 years that number is 45 percent. The chef said something had to change.
“So there is this kind of cycle that we live. It’s not good for the center, certainly not for the employees, but it’s not good for the community either,” Smyth added.
And it’s not just the police who are affected by this burnout of 911 employees, as not all calls are to the police.
“A fraction of those calls go to the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Services to dispatch ambulances, dispatch fire trucks. We have to recognize that it also has an impact on these services, ”said Markus Chambers, chairman of the Winnipeg Police Commission.
Smyth is asking the Winnipeg Police Commission to hire twelve more 911 callers and six dispatchers over the next two years. priced at $1.8 million.
“We are working on the 23 budget process, then on the current multi-year budget. So that’s kind of where we are now, we’re trying to figure out how we would fund this,” he said.
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Chambers said given the increase in service calls, it’s about making sure people are in place to take those calls, but that’s not the only focus.
“We need to focus on how to reduce those calls – so it’s security and crime prevention that we’re looking at.”
Currently, Manitoba and Ontario are the only provinces that don’t use mobile user fees to pay for 911 services, and Smyth thinks a cellphone surcharge could help with funding.
He worries that if something doesn’t change, they run the risk of impacting the 911 service.
“If you need an ambulance, if you need the fire department, if you need a police response, you call 9-1-1.”
“I know there are a lot of people who are against the police, but it’s not really about the police. This is our safety net in the community in terms of emergency response capability.
And it’s not just a problem that affects emergency services in Winnipeg, but also those in rural Manitoba.
The vacancy rate for 911 personnel is currently at 32%, according to the Manitoba RCMP.
Nationally, that figure is 40%.
– with files from Marney Blunt of PKBNEWS
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