A bill we first discussed a few months ago appears to be advancing through the Colorado legislature that would grant workers’ compensation mental health benefits to Emergency Center Dispatchers. While the effort to include 911 dispatchers into the growing world of special protections for first responders is actually going on nationwide, Colorado seems to be one of the few early adopters codifying it into law.

Nationally, the “911 Saves Act” is before Congress and if approved would change the classification of 911 dispatchers to match that of all first responders. A county in Colorado has already made that move, and the state of Texas did so last year. The argument is, of course, that dispatchers hear terrible things happening over the phone, and must endure tremendous emotional challenges as they calmly work to help people. A director of Denver’s 911 Call Center, speaking in support of the current legislation being debated in the state, said that her workers, “get calls from someone considering suicide to someone screaming because they just came home and what they found, it may be somebody in cardiac arrest, where the person calling may need to do CPR.”

There is certainly an argument to be made regarding the stresses that these workers face. But as we have argued before, these types of benefit changes are creating a two-tiered system of injured worker. Many of the crises that 911 dispatchers contend with are happening at the workplace of private citizens who are not being given the same consideration. That call may be from someone who just watched a co-worker get shot, or who saw a fellow employee swallowed by a commercial grinder. With the trend we are seeing regarding emergency dispatchers, the person hearing about the trauma will be entitled to benefits, while in many states the person experiencing it will get nothing.

What about the guy screaming on the other end of the phone? Is it fair that they are left behind simply because they have no lobbyists to work on their behalf?

Just so we are clear, much of the push for extended and automatic benefits for first responders across the nation is based on politics, not science. The emotional argument to support those on the front line of crisis is creating coverage for some conditions for which there is little scientific evidence supporting a connection to the job. And as this trend moves into the realm of the call center dispatcher, the disparity between the haves and have nots only grows wider.

It is ironic that when the dust settles, the person in an emergency calling for assistance will have less available to them than the person who answered the phone.

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