Rhonda Miller

Reporter

Rhonda Miller joined WKU Public Radio in 2015.  She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.

She has worked at Rhode Island Public Radio,  as an intern at WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke, Virginia, and at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Rhonda’s freelance work called Writing Into Sound includes stories for Voice of America, WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Conn., NPR and AARP Prime Time Radio.

She has a master’s degree in media studies from Rhode Island College and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.

Rhonda enjoys quiet water kayaking, riding her bicycle and folk music. She was a volunteer DJ for Root-N-Branch at WUMD community radio in Dartmouth, Mass. 

Flickr/U.S. Navy

The relentless COVID-19 pandemic has intensified America's nursing shortage. Now, Kentucky nurses who work in schools, long-term care facilities, hospices, and hospitals are being lured away. 

Hospitals and other states are offering up to four times Kentucky's hourly wage for nurses. 

WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with the CEO of the Kentucky Nurses Association, Delanor Manson, about burnout from dealing with dying COVID patients, verbal attacks for asking people to wear a mask or get vaccinated, and possible solutions to the nursing shortage in the Bluegrass State. 

Manson: States like California, Texas and New York have an exponential nursing shortage. And they have retained travel nurse agencies to go out and find nurses to come to their states. Because Kentucky does not have the exponential nursing shortage that a lot of other states have, we are prime candidates for these travel nurse agencies. So, they are coming to Kentucky to poach our nurses to send them to other states. And they're poaching our nurses with high dollars for hourly pay, as well as large bonuses. 


heavenhilldistillery.com

A strike at one of the world’s largest bourbon producers is entering its fourth week.

The stalemate is over a proposed contract at Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown.

United Food and Commercial Workers Local 23D rejected the proposed five-year contract offered by Heaven Hill Distillery based in large part on concerns about possible expanded weekend shifts.  

The walkout involves about 420 members of the union. 

The Bardstown distillery signaled that it wanted to assign new hires to nontraditional schedules that would include weekend work, but the union is concerned about how those shifts would be covered if new employees are not available. 


Facebook/City of Owensboro

The city of Owensboro and other Kentucky communities are partnering with a steamboat company on an environmental project to protect the Ohio River.

When the American Duchess Riverboat docked in Owensboro this week on its eight-city tour along the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, it was more than just an opportunity for passengers to take a stroll and enjoy the music of some of the region’s talented bluegrass musicians.

The stop included an activity for the Community Outreach Project, a collaboration intended to study environmental issues affecting the Ohio River.


Ford Media

Kentucky-based manufacturers and global companies with facilities in the Bluegrass State are accelerating production of components for electric vehicles. 

The latest example is this week’s announcement by Ford Motor Company of a $5.8 million battery manufacturing campus in the small community of Glendale in Hardin County that will produce batteries for Ford and Lincoln electric vehicles.

A statewide coalition is encouraging the creation of more charging stations, with the goal of eventually making recharging an electric vehicle as easy as stopping to fill up at the gas station.

Kentucky has more than 2,600 fully electric vehicles registered in counties across the state, according to 2020 data. The previous year, the state had about 1,800 fully electric vehicles registered. 


Rhonda J. Miller

About 700 Kentuckians a year take their own lives.

Now, a group in western Kentucky called Infinite Hope has been formed to support those left behind. 

WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with two people from Henderson who lost beloved young men to suicide, as Infinite Hope prepares for a remembrance ceremony on Saturday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m. in Central Park in Henderson

One of those taking part in the event is Frank Poole, who lived near his grandson Talon Hogan for the entire 20 years of the young man’s life. He took care of Talon and his brother when their mother was busy remodeling their church and Poole was unemployed during the Great Recession.


Rhonda J. Miller

Kentucky manufacturers that produce parts for electric vehicles are expanding their range of components, and space, to meet the growing demand for their products.

Demand is sure to increase as a result of President Joe Biden’s executive order last month that sets a goal of having half of new car sales be zero-emission vehicles by 2030.

“They’re a vision of the future that is now beginning to happen," Biden said. "A future of the automobile industry that is electric. Battery electric, plug-in hybrid electric, fuel cell electric. It’s electric and there’s no turning back."


Somerset Pulaski County EMS

Governor Andy Beshear announced this week that more than half the  hospitals in Kentucky are reporting critical staff shortages as COVID-19 cases surge. That’s resulted in a lot of patient transfers to wherever beds and staff are available. 

To help ease overburned emergency response teams, Kentucky has recieved three Federal Emergency Management Agency strike teams to assist wth patient transport so local EMS crews have more time to respond to all types of emergency calls.

One of the three FEMA strike teams that arrived in Kentucky a few days ago was deployed to the assist in Pulaski County. Each FEMA team has five ambulances and at total of 10 EMTs and paramedics.


Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital

A Somerset-based hospital is one of many across Kentucky, and nation, struggling with the spike in COVID-19 patients, while trying to recruit more staff. 

Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital currently has 26 patients in two COVID-19 units. 

We are aware of a few who were vaccinated who have been admitted. But there’s no question that the overwhelming majority of patients admitted, at least at our hospital, are unvaccinated," said hospital CEO Robert Parker.

He said he wants the communities his hospital serves to understand the severity of the situation faced by his staff. 

“The way I would describe it is, Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital is operating at the very edge of our capacity, both in terms of staff and bed capacity," said Parker. "However, we’re able to function properly and take care of our patients and we want patients to still come into the facility if they need care. It is important, though, for our community to know that we are operating at that edge of capacity.”


Rhonda J. Miller

As schools struggle to continue in-person learning as COVID-19 surges across the nation, one school district in southern Kentucky is reporting a decrease in the number of students and staff in quarantine two weeks after a mask mandate went into effect.


Warren County Public Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton said in a news conference Tuesday that the numbers are down substantially from the 1,800 students in quarantine last week.

“We’re at 834 students that are quarantined due to a potential contact exposure at school," Clayton said. "We do not have any staff that are quarantined due to a school contact. However, we have about 100 across the district that are required to quarantine."

Rhonda J. Miller

Kentucky towns that depend on tourism revenue from small museums and festivals are being hit again by the recent surge of COVID-19.

As a result, one Muhlenberg County town just cancelled tourism events for the rest of the year. 

The Muhlenberg Music Museum features memorabilia of rock & roll pioneers, the Everly Brothers, Phil who died in 2014, and Don who died Saturday.

That museum and the adjacent Kentucky Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum are still open with sanitizing, masking, and social distancing. 

But Central City Tourism Commission Executive Director Freddie Mayes said the annual Cruise-In car and music show scheduled for Sept. 3 and 4 that draws thousands of people has been canceled.


Warren County Public Schools

Warren County Public Schools is facing the challenge of an increasing number of students in COVID quarantine, along with a shortage of bus drivers.

Less than three weeks into the school year, Warren County Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton said the district is maintaining in-person classes with flexible staffing, while keeping the required watch on COVID-19 numbers.

“The latest data that we have is 324 positive students, 38 positive staff, and approximately 1,800 students are quarantined. Around 10 percent of our student population is quarantined,” said Clayton.

He said about a handful of staff are also in quarantine.


baptisthealth.com

The spike in COVID-19 cases that’s creating renewed stress on health care systems across the nation is causing dangerous staffing shortages in hospitals across Kentucky.

In his press briefing Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear said there are at least 21 hospitals in Kentucky with a significant shortage of staff. 

One of the hospitals that took part in the briefing was Baptist Health Hardin in Elizabethtown.

“We are no different than any other facility in the state of Kentucky. We are facing staffing challenges amidst rising patient volumes," said Sharon Wright, Vice President and Chief Nursing Officer at Baptist Health Hardin. "Many of our staff are quarantined from COVID exposure. Some have retired. Some have resigned and left health care entirely.”

warrencountyschools.org

The head of Warren County Public Schools is telling employees to be prepared for the possibility of a return to virtual learning.

There’s a large number of students in quarantine and many vacant staff positions across the system. 

Warren County School District spokeswoman Lauren Thurmond said the district currently has 1,649 students in quarantine. That's nine-percent of the student population.


T.J. Regional Health

The national and statewide trend of increasing COVID-19 cases is also being seen at hospitals in Glasgow and Owensboro. 

T.J. Regional Health spokesperson Stacey Biggs said there are currently 20 COVID patients at T.J. Samson Community Hospital in Barren County. Some of those are in the ICU and some on ventilators.

"We are not at a point where we would say we can’t take any more patients. We are not at that point,” said Biggs. “At the same time, our ICU is full, our emergency  department is pretty full, as usual, and our COVID unit is pretty full, too.”

Biggs said only one of the 20 COVID patients is fully vaccinated. 

One month ago, the hospital had only three patients with COVID.

There’s a similar increase of COVID patients being treated by Owensboro Health.


Lee's Family Child Care

The COVID-19 pandemic intensified the existing shortage of regulated child care in Kentucky and across America. 

Child care centers were shut down for a while and some employees and in-home providers haven’t returned to this traditionally low-paid segment of the economy.

The lack of child care prevents many workers from going back to their jobs and that impacts hospitals, schools and businesses across the state.

This month the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services awarded a $2.2 million dollar contract to Western Kentucky University to create and host a network to recruit, train and support child care providers, with an emphasis on in-home settings. 

WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with WKU Infant and Toddler Specialist, Amy Hood, director of the new Family Child Care Network of Kentucky. 


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