Hospitals across Kentucky, and the nation, continue to struggle to fill vacant positions as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.
WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller talked with Robert Parker, CEO of Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital in Somerset, about the vaccination status of COVID patients and employees, and the shortage of medical professionals and support staff.
Parker: The staffing situation here at Lake Cumberland is indeed still a significant challenge. Not only in nursing, but in all of our areas. To discuss nursing first, we currently have 104 open positions for nursing at the moment. This is a phenomenon that’s going to be a challenge through the rest of the year, and into 2022 and perhaps even beyond. You know, we have seen a lot of nurses make career changes. It also is endemic at other areas of the hospital, as well, in different areas, from respiratory therapy to radiology services to food services to dietary, basically all of them. Coming out of the pandemic there are some areas all hospitals are going to have to focus on, not just Lake Cumberland.
Miller: Let me ask you about the nursing situation. You said you have 104 open positions for nurses. What’s the general staffing amount?
Parker: Around 700 total nursing positions.
Miller: You have 700 nursing positions, so you have just around 600 filled and 104 open?
Parker: Correct. And so how that works, Rhonda, how we manage to manage is we have the nurses that we do have work extra shifts and things like this. So, of course, that’s not optimal. Some of them do like to work those extra shifts, but some of them prefer not to.
Miller: Yeah, it’s a very demanding job in the first place.
Parker: Yes, that’s how we manage through it.
Miller: I know that there was an announcement by a dozen or so health care companies in Kentucky where the CEOs or the management all said we’re going to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all staff. Did your hospital join in that announcement, or weren’t you part of that?
Parker: No, our company originally did not. Our particular company was not one that originally joined that group.
Miller: So, at this point, do you have unvaccinated people working in the hospital?
Parker: What we’re currently working toward is the news that we’ve heard about the federal COVID-19 vaccine requirements. We are working quickly to establish policies and protocols to meet that. It does seem that the CMS rules that are coming out, as we understand them, this will become a mandate within all health care facilities who are affiliated with CMS.
Miller: What is CMS?
Parker: It’s the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Miller: What’s your total number of employees in the Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital?
Parker: Around 1,200 total.
Miller: Do you have a count or approximate percentage of all those people that are vaccinated?
Parker: Yes, we’re at 70 percent.
Miller: How are the COVID patients doing in the beds you have available?
Parker: Those patients do have other health concerns, usually, the ones that are admitted for COVID. But in general, I would say 90 to 95 percent of our admitted patients over the last two months during this Delta variant phase of the pandemic, we would say were unvaccinated.
Miller: Is there anything else you would like to add, as someone who has to deal with this every day and has been dealing with this COVID pandemic for a year-and-a-half or more now?
Parker: Yes, we are encouraged to see some of the rates of the pandemic continuing to drop. And I would also share that our team members, it’s hard to say that they’re not getting tired and weary, ‘cause that’s true, they are getting tired and weary. But they remain resilient, and they remain very strong, as we continue to take care of these patients, they are so inspiring to see.
Miller: Well, Robert, thanks so much for talking with me. I know it’s a really stressful time for everybody in health care.
Parker: Well, thank you so much. I appreciate your time, Rhonda.
Miller: OK thanks, bye, bye
Parker: OK, bye, bye.
Miller: I’ve been speaking with Robert Parker. He’s the CEO of Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital. I’m Rhonda Miller in Bowling Green.