HUSTONVILLE — When a panicked woman named Judy was connected with a Lincoln County dispatcher on Dec. 27, she told the dispatcher her 44-year-old diabetic husband had not been responsive for about 10 or 15 minutes.
"Bill is not breathing," she blurts out to the dispatcher on a recording of the 911 call. "My husband's not breathing."
When the dispatcher attempts to pinpoint the location of the emergency, the woman says, "I'm right on the edge of the Casey and Lincoln line."
"Are you in Lincoln or Casey County, sweetheart?" the dispatcher asks.
"It depends on where you're standing," the woman responds. "West Lincoln Rescue is who always comes for him when I need help."
After telling the woman to get her husband lying on the floor, the dispatcher tells the caller that West Lincoln Rescue and Casey County emergency responders will be sent her way.
"Casey County had me on hold," the woman responds.
The call from Norris Road, which crosses over the Casey/Lincoln county line at least once, is one example Bluegrass 911 Director Russ Clark has held up as evidence that something needs to change about 911 call-routing in the Hustonville area.
Clark said there are about 1,300 phone numbers on the Hustonville-area 346 exchange that belong to residences in Lincoln County. There are also about 300 numbers on the same exchange for residences in Casey County.
But as of right now, all 1,600 lines are routed to Casey County dispatchers when a 911 call is placed.
The extra time it takes for Casey County to determine that a caller is from Lincoln County and then redirect the call to Bluegrass 911, which serves Lincoln and Garrard counties, is an unnecessary and potentially life-threatening delay, Clark said.
In the case of the Dec. 27 call from Norris Road, EMS arrived at the house about 16 minutes after the woman was connected to Bluegrass 911. By then, the man had been unresponsive for around half an hour. Despite CPR efforts from a neighbor with medical training, the man did not survive.
The call-routing issues stem from the current telephone trunkline setup, in which Casey County pays Windstream Communications — the owner of the area's trunklines — a little more than $70 per month for the calls to be routed to its 911 dispatch.
911 calls from the exchange used to be split between the counties, but when Bluegrass 911 began having its calls processed by the Lexington-based Central Kentucky Phone Network a little more than a year ago, that setup wasn't maintained.
While everyone involved — Casey County, Bluegrass 911 and Windstream — agrees it would be better for calls to be split and routed appropriately again, the price tag of accomplishing it has become a sticking point.
Lee Elliott, staff manager of 911 for Windstream Communications, said Lincoln and Casey counties have three options for how Hustonville-area 911 calls can be routed.
There's the current setup, where all calls go to Casey County. The second option is for Lincoln County to take over Casey's current monthly service charge, in which case all calls from the exchange would head to Bluegrass 911.
Or Bluegrass 911 can pay Windstream an initial fee of $712 followed by recurring monthly fees of $660 to reprogram the trunklines and split the calls correctly between the counties.
Splitting the calls is a more expensive option because the current monthly charges paid by Casey County are set at a "grandfathered" rate no longer charged by Windstream on new accounts, Elliott said.
The new, higher charges aren't arbitrary — they're set through tariffs that Windstream must get approved by the government, said Scott Morris, Windstream spokesman.
Bluegrass 911 board members said the option of routing all the exchange's 911 calls to Lincoln County is the most affordable and makes sense given that the majority of phone numbers are on the Lincoln County side. And by taking over Casey's monthly service charge, Bluegrass 911 would be able to maintain the lower grandfathered rate.
But that option isn't possible if both counties don't agree, and Casey County Judge-Executive Ronald Wright said it wouldn't be fair to Casey County residents to create the same problem in reverse.
"We need to come up with a solution to split those like they used to be," he said. "We would like to retain Casey County customers."
Clark said if Lincoln has to pay $660 monthly for rerouting the 911 calls — nearly $8,000 per year and many times more than the grandfathered rate — it will essentially wipe out the savings Bluegrass 911 realized by switching to the Central Kentucky Phone Network in the first place.
The exorbitant price tag isn't justified because Windstream really just has to "flip a switch" to make things right, Clark said.
"Windstream is, in my opinion, trying to rip us off," he told Bluegrass 911 board members earlier this month.
But Elliott said there's more to it than the flip of a switch. If Bluegrass 911 were to pay Windstream for splitting the calls, Windstream would bring in engineers to redesign the circuits that route telephone calls in the area and then testing would be conducted on the new circuits to ensure they were set up properly.
"There is a lot of work going into making sure circuits work properly," he said.
Lincoln County Attorney and Bluegrass 911 board member Daryl Day said he believes from previous case examples that Windstream could be held liable for improperly routed 911 calls if something goes wrong and a family sues because an emergency response was delayed.
Elliott declined to comment specifically on legal issues like liability but said Windstream's preference would be to have a setup where every call is routed to the correct dispatch center.
"I don't know where the liabilities lie, but there is risk involved in not doing it the way the standards suggest that we do it," he said.
Lincoln County Judge-Executive and Bluegrass 911 board member Jim Adams said he wants to eliminate the "human error possibilities" involved with Casey having to identify and transfer Lincoln calls.
"From where I sit, we need to fix it and if it becomes Lincoln County's responsibility, then so be it," Adams said.
Clark, who has been negotiating with Windstream for months on the issue, is ready for a resolution as well.
"Whether we're being held ransom I don't know," he said. "But we're going to have to make a decision."
Bluegrass 911 board members have discussed the possibility of pulling in a state regulation agency, the Kentucky Public Service Commission, to put pressure on Windstream to offer a lower price for the re-routing. They've also initiated plans for a meeting of all the involved parties, where a solution could be hashed out.
When asked if there's any wiggle room on Windstream's re-routing price, Elliott was hesitant to say yes.
"I don't want to shut the door on it (price negotiations) because 911 is very important," he said.
No matter what happens with the re-routing issue, Elliott emphasized that people should definitely not shy away from calling 911 in an emergency situation and should not "panic" about potential minor delays — delays that he hopes will soon be eliminated.
"I do think there will be a resolution," he said.