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Austin woman waits on hold with 911 for 15 minutes as husband dies of heart attack due to staffing shortages


An Austin, Texas woman says she was left on hold by a 911 dispatcher for 15 minutes when her husband died, drawing further attention to a staffing shortage at the 911 dispatch center in the city, where response times are well above the national average.

“The phone just rings and rings and rings,” Austin’s Tanya Gotcher told KEYE-TV of her call to 911 in May this year when her husband Cassy, ​​to whom she had been married for nearly 30 years old, collapsed before later dying. .

Gotcher, whose 911 call was recently featured in a campaign ad for Travis County judge candidate Rupal Chaudhari, said she asked her stepfather to call the dispatcher as well. urgently, so that she does not lose her place in the queue and her call. took over 10 minutes.

“It took him 10 minutes, and then the 911 company realized he was in another county, so they transferred him, and it took another three minutes,” Gotcher said. “Mine lasted at least 15, maybe 20 minutes. »

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An Anne Arundel County Fire Department dispatcher responds to a 911 emergency call in Glen Burnie, Maryland.
(Alex Edelman/AFP)

“When you hear the phone ringing for 15 minutes and you can’t find anyone to help you, that’s the worst nightmare you could have,” Gotcher added, explaining how she did CPR on her husband while waiting for someone. one responds. his call.

Fox News Digital reported earlier this month that only 64.09% of calls to 911 in Austin were answered within 15 seconds, which was well below the national standard of 90% of calls being answered in 15 seconds or less. The average wait time for the 38,000 Austin residents who called 911 in October was two and a half minutes.

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An Austin-Travis County EMS doctor removes protective clothing after loading a man with possible symptoms of COVID-19 into an ambulance.

An Austin-Travis County EMS doctor removes protective clothing after loading a man with possible symptoms of COVID-19 into an ambulance.
(John Moore/Getty Images)

Austin City Councilman Mackenzie Kelly, who called for a council meeting on the 911 staffing issue — which was eventually held on Tuesday — told Fox News Digital last week that nearly half of the 105 911 operator positions in the city’s call center are vacant and 19 of 75 dispatcher positions are vacant.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Austin Police Chief Joseph Chacon told the council that steps were being taken to increase the number of 911 dispatchers, address burnout and increase salaries, as well as allocation of allowances and bonuses.

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“Over the past six weeks, we have hired more call takers and dispatchers than we have all year,” Chacon told the board, adding that he recently hired seven new employees in the call center, which is “the most we’ve hired”. in a long time. Chacon also said he had “doubled the size” of the recruiting center, but added that to reach the 90% standard, vacancies would have to be filled where they were in 2018 when the city met that standard.

Kelly, who joined the city council in January 2021, told Fox News Digital the following Tuesday that she was encouraged by the progress being made to address the issue.

“I am encouraged by the progress the Chief and City Manager are making to ensure our community’s calls for service are answered in a timely manner,” Kelly said. “I look forward to the progress they are making on hiring and retention as well as future discussions.”

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A police officer stands guard during the Gold Cup semi-final match between the United States and Qatar on July 29, 2021, at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas.

A police officer stands guard during the Gold Cup semi-final match between the United States and Qatar on July 29, 2021, at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas.
(Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Following the meeting, the City of Austin issued a lengthy press release outlining how staffing issues at the 911 center are being handled and the staffing challenges the city faces.

“The City of Austin plans to make wage adjustments leading to increased pay for some 911 callers and police dispatch personnel to address the wage squeeze resulting from the recent living wage increase. “, reads the press release. “These efforts, combined with stipends and the development of a citywide recruitment campaign, support the retention of existing employees and are intended to help fill vacancies at the Department of Emergency Call Center. Austin Police.”

The Austin Police Department is also facing staffing shortages affecting response times after the city council voted unanimously in August 2020 to cut the department’s budget by about a third, leading to a major exodus. sworn officers. The council also canceled police cadet courses, which prevented the APD from filling vacancies. At the time, Mayor Steve Adler and then-Council Member Greg Casar touted the reduced funding as a “reinvention” of the department.

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Funding has since been restored to keep the city in line with a state law passed in 2021, but several past and present officers told Fox News Digital this month, morale and staffing issues remain. At the end of August, the police department had 257 vacancies for sworn officers.

Fox News’ Paul Best contributed to this report.

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