WKYT Investigates | Lexington 911 staff shortage causing dispatch delays

Staffing shortages are leading to longer ring-times for some emergency callers.
WKYT Investigates | 911 dispatcher shortage in Lexington
Published: Sep. 16, 2022 at 5:44 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 16, 2022 at 5:49 PM EDT
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - What happens when you call 911 for help and no one answers?

Ring-time data obtained through an open records request show many calls are taking more than two minutes to be answered.

In all of 2019, just five calls had ring times of more than two minutes. So far, in 2022, Lexington E-911 has received more than 1,000 calls with ring times longer than two minutes. There have been 19 reports of extended ring times filed at E-911.

Jonelle Patton, the director of Lexington’s E-911 center, tells us that current staffing shortages are partially to blame.

All this is as the city experiences a stretch of violence that’s pushing the city’s homicide record to its breaking point. So, as more dispatchers and call-takers continue to leave the profession, what can city leaders do to keep them?

“We’re 911, we save lives. So, it’s very important for us to be cognizant of those numbers and how we can do better as a whole,” said Patton.

Patton says there are roughly 21 openings for call-takers and dispatchers.

“If we had ten call-takers and there are twenty calls coming in, those other ten calls are going to be delayed, and that happens frequently throughout the day,” said Patton.

While the city works to hire new employees, current employees are left to pick up the slack.

“It means additional and residual stress for the people that are already doing the job,” said Patton.

Due to staffing issues, E-911 employees are working eight hours of mandatory overtime per week.

“They’re working three eight-hour shifts and two twelve-hour shifts,” said Patton.

Patton says there are times when only one call-taker is working. Dispatchers and supervisors are also able to take calls, but it is not their primary job.

She says that despite the staffing issues, Lexington E-911 remains open 24/7.

“You may have to wait a little longer but we are here and ready to facilitate the need,” said Patton.

With long ring times, callers often find themselves hanging up and redialing 911 in their desperate times of need. Patton recommends staying on the line, even if it keeps ringing and ringing.

But what are they doing to fix the problem?

Patton says they’re taking steps to recruit more people, such as a $3,000 hiring bonus and retaining current employees through a $4,000 retention bonus. They are also looking at ways to help current employees deal with stress and prevent burnout to increase job retention.