coronavirus

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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. 


Ryan Van Velzer | wfpl.org

Louisville EMS paramedic Don Scheer wasn’t halfway through his shift when he helped restart a man’s heart in an ambulance en route to University of Louisville Hospital. 

It was an overdose. 

“Today hasn’t been too bad of a day which means I probably just ruined that,” Scheer said after they arrived at the hospital and the patient was taken inside. “We just had a 35-year old cardiac arrest from a drug overdose. We see a lot of those calls.”

Scheer’s standing beside a pile of multicolored spine boards, the kind paramedics use to transport patients. Some of them are used to carry people overdosing on drugs, some are for victims of violent crime, and some are for people struggling to breathe.

 

  

J. Tyler Franklin

Kentuckians can now go online and find the nearest medical facility that has monoclonal anti-bodies to help treat COVID-19.

The treatments can be very effective for those with mild symptoms and no underlying health conditions. The lab-created anti-bodies boost the immune system and can keep some patients from being hospitalized. 

With the surge of the Delta variant, monoclonal antibodies grew in demand, resulting in a nationwide shortage. 

Now, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is limiting how many treatments states receive each week. 

During a news conference on Thursday, Kentucky Public Health Commissioner Dr. Steven Stack said each state’s allotment depends on certain criteria.

Lee Co. Schools

Lee County Elementary School, in eastern Kentucky, lost its third staff member to COVID-19 on Monday.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Sarah Wasson has confirmed that Lee County Elementary School guidance counselor Rhonda Estes died Monday afternoon of complications from COVID-19. She’d been with the district for more than three decades.

“Rhonda was a calming force with a positive outlook regardless of the circumstance. She encouraged and inspired all those she came in contact with. She did little things behind the scenes to help others and will be greatly missed by all who knew her,” Wasson wrote in an email to WFPL.

Corinne Boyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Secretary for Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra appealed to Kentuckians to get vaccinated against COVID-19 on Tuesday. Speaking at a health policy forum hosted by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, Becerra urged people to save lives by wearing masks and getting vaccinated.

“Now, I shouldn't have to repeat this, but I will. The vaccines we have are safe. They are highly effective,” Becerra said. “More than 200 million Americans are alive today to tell you that they've had at least one shot. ”

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky released a recent vaccination poll that found 20% of Kentuckians surveyed are hesitant to receive the vaccine.

Becerra discussed the consequences of disinformation about the vaccine.

Corinne Boyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

Over the last three days, Kentucky has reported 88 deaths from COVID-19. That included multiple people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The youngest deaths were of two 22-year-olds. 

Gov. Andy Beshear reported that 92% of COVID-19 hospitalizations are among people who are not vaccinated.

“Think about the numbers we’ve had people in the hospital — thousands — and how sick they are, 92% all unvaccinated.” 

Beshear said the positivity rate has decreased slightly to 12.18%. But, he said it’s too soon to know if cases are steadily declining.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

COVID hospitalizations are beginning to ease up in parts of Tennessee. But intensive care units remain dangerously full, creating a backup in hospitals across the state.

The critical access hospital in Bolivar usually only has two or three patients at any one time. Right now, the rural West Tennessee facility has a dozen patients, and half of them are sick with COVID, according to CEO Ruby Kirby.

“In normal times, we would be able to get those patients out to a higher level of care,” she says.

Some are on ventilators being cared for in the small emergency department and need to be transferred to an ICU in Jackson, Memphis or Nashville. But there are no openings, Kirby says.

“We’re managing them, but it is putting a strain on the system, trying to hold these patients in these hospitals until we can get them moved,” she says.

TJ Samson Community Hospital

Kentucky hospitals and nursing homes have been struggling with staffing shortages as COVID-19 continues to surge through the state.

Health care leaders hoped state lawmakers would set aside funds to attract and retain workers during last week’s special legislative session dealing with the pandemic, but legislators said the initiative didn’t fit within Gov. Andy Beshear’s agenda for the session.

Instead, lawmakers passed a measure allowing paramedics to work in hospitals and setting aside $69.2 million in federal relief money for testing supplies, vaccination campaigns and monoclonal antibody treatment.

Jim Musser, vice president for policy and government relations with the Kentucky Hospital Association, said the special session produced some helpful policies, but they didn’t go far enough.

Alexandra Kanik

Kentucky’s COVID-19 situation continues to worsen and that’s putting a strain on hospitals and medical resources. 

On Monday, Kentucky’s top health official, Dr. Steven Stack, said new cases are higher than ever and that’s leading to a serious problem for hospitals.

“And though you may not be in a hospital right now, our hospitals are at the brink of collapse in many communities,” Stack said.  “It’s causing consequences to people not just with COVID, but also to people without COVID who can’t get some of their procedures, or hospitalizations, taken care of, or have a heart attack or a stroke addressed in a timely manner, because there simply are no places for these patients to get their care.”

Stephanie Wolf

When Gov. Andy Beshear called a special legislative session on COVID-19, he clearly outlined goals to fight the pandemic in Kentucky. 

Some of those items passed, including an extension of the state of emergency. But as predicted, masking was a point of contention — and in the end, the Republican-led legislature passed a bill reversing the Kentucky Department of Education’s mask mandate.

“The legislature owns this pandemic moving forward,” Beshear said at a Friday press conference, during which he relayed his frustration with state lawmakers.

Senate Bill 1 places the onus on individual school districts and their superintendents to decide whether masks are required in classrooms.

J. Tyler Franklin

The Republican-led legislature wrapped up the special session called by Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear on Thursday night.

Shortly before midnight, lawmakers overrode two line-item vetoes Beshear issued of SB 1, which nullifies the school statewide mask mandate, and SB 2, which blocks the governor from creating other statewide mask requirements.

Beshear also signed two measures–SB 3 setting aside $69.2 million in federal coronavirus relief money to fight the pandemic and SB 5, which takes $410 million out of the rainy day fund to incentivize major companies to invest in the state.

Beshear called the special session after the legislature passed several laws limiting the governor’s emergency powers earlier this year. The state Supreme Court ordered those laws into effect after they were initially blocked.

J. Tyler Franklin

The Kentucky National Guard will offer additional support to the state’s hospitals as the delta variant continues to strain medical resources.

More than 100 National Guard members are currently deployed at four of the state’s hardest-hit hospitals, including Med Center Health in Bowling Green. On Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that he is authorizing the deployment of 310 additional National Guard members to assist 21 more hospitals.

Beshear said the Guard will provide logistical and administrative support so health care professions can focus on treating patients.

“This shows that every hospital is bursting at the seams, that they desperately need help and that we are a state full of more seriously sick people than we have ever seen,” he said.

J. Tyler Franklin

State lawmakers working in a special session on a pandemic relief bill for public schools are struggling to build consensus on how much flexibility districts should have in moving to remote learning. 

Republican leaders in both chambers have moved bills through committees that give districts 20 remote learning days, in addition to the 10 non-traditional instruction days they already have. The bills would also end the statewide mask mandate for schools and childcare centers, create a “test-to-stay” strategy and make it easier to hire substitute teachers.

Under the provision, districts could use 20 days to send a school, a group of students or a class into remote instruction—but not the entire district. 

Democrats, and some Republicans, worry 20 days won’t be enough.

J. Tyler Franklin

During a special legislative session called by Gov. Andy Beshear, Kentucky lawmakers have advanced a bill to use more than $69 million in federal coronavirus relief money to respond to the pandemic.

Republican-led committees in the state House and Senate passed identical bills that give Beshear’s administration the authority to spend the funds to help schools, hospitals and nursing homes weather COVID-19.

Rep. Jason Petrie, a Republican from Elkton, said the administration will have the ability to decide how much and what to spend the funds on.

“There is wide discretion given to the administration of being able to nimbly adapt the funds where the need is,” Petrie said.

Kevin Willis | WKYU

Kentucky Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman says adults have talked a lot about how the pandemic has impacted the mental health of K-12 students.

What’s too often missing, she adds, is the voices of the students themselves.

As part of an effort to reverse that trend, Coleman was in Bowling Green Wednesday for the first in a series of in-person and virtual meetings with students across the state designed to give young people the opportunity to express how they’re struggling under the weight of the uncertainty, anxiety, and stress related to COVID-19.

“We’ve heard a lot of talk over the last couple of years about mental health and how it’s affecting students. But we haven’t heard from students. It’s been an adult’s interpretation, or assumption, of how students feel, and why they feel that way, and how to help them,” Coleman told WKU Public Radio.


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