Husband of Overworked 911 Dispatcher Who Died After Working While Sick Says No One Should Die Over a Job

Pamela Cooper and Husband Joel Cooper
Pamela Cooper and Husband Joel Cooper

Pamela Cooper was recovering from COVID-19, but returned to work when she ran out of sick leave and had to work a double-shift.

A 911 dispatcher in Arizona who had previously had COVID-19 died after being required to finish an overtime shift despite telling management she wasn’t feeling well, according to her family. Pamela Cooper, 48, initially contracted the coronavirus a few months ago and took several weeks off work due to the virus. She was recently cleared to go back, but her husband, Joel Cooper, said he thought it’d be tough because she wasn’t feeling fully recovered.

He also thought she would be working her normal schedule. That wasn’t the case, he said. 

“Her third day back is when they made her work the 16-hour shift,” Joel Cooper told Inside Edition.

It was that day that Pamela began feeling really sick. Her husband said she requested to leave early, but was told no. A spokesperson for the city of Phoenix said that when an employee isn’t feeling well and tells a supervisor, they should be sent home. Instead, Pamela, a 21-year veteran of the job, continued to work her shift, according to her husband.

“She was frustrated and she wasn't feeling well. She wanted to leave, but she was told that if she did that she would be reprimanded,” Cooper told Inside Edition.

When she came home after her shift at 1 a.m., she went to sleep, but later in the morning, Pamela asked her husband to call 911 because she said she was going to die. Cooper said his wife was only coherent for about five minutes after making that statement. She was rushed to the hospital in Phoenix, where they were able to revive her and she was placed on life support for about three days, according to her husband.

“They did a nuclear test on her brain or something, where it shocks nuclear waves through her to see if there's any brain activity. And there was nothing. So she was gone the day she stopped breathing here at the house,” Cooper said.

The family made the decision to take her off life support and now they plan on filing a lawsuit against the city for $35 million.

"This never should have happened," Jonathan Michaels, an attorney representing the family, told KPNX. 

City officials told News 12 KPNX that they’d lost 11 operators since the start of 2021 and so operators are required to work overtime. The city’s 911 dispatch operation had lost employees allegedly for reasons including COVID-19, low pay offered to dispatchers as well as the long hours dispatchers are expected to work, the New Times reported.

City records show Phoenix's 911 call answering average rate in January was below the national standard of having 95% of calls answered in 20 seconds or less, KPNX reported. 

“I'm angry that they didn't care about her health and her wellbeing, that she had to tell him over and over and over that she wasn't feeling well and yet they still denied her to leave," Cooper said. “Nobody should lose their job or lose their life over a job.”