coronavirus

Blake Farmer | WPLN

Tennessee has reopened a fund to help hospitals fly in temporary nurses as they’re short on staff. But hospitals are finding that there’s not much money left, even though the shortage is more critical than when they needed staffing help during the winter surge.

It’s a competition between hard-hit states where hospitals are overwhelmed and understaffed. Texas has a Texas-sized program. Mississippi has committed $10 million a week to bring in a thousand travel nurses. Meanwhile, Tennessee has $10 million total remaining from what was originally a $100 million fund.

“The money, thus far, that the state has committed to is not putting us into a position where we can compete very well,” says Dr. Wendy Long, the CEO of the Tennessee Hospital Association.

J. Tyler Franklin

Last week marked an unwanted distinction for Kentucky. The state broke records for daily case count, and the number of people hospitalized, in the ICU and on ventilators. 

The strain on the state’s health care workers is growing more extreme.

At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshear announced that 62 out of the 96 hospitals in the state were experiencing critical staff shortages.

“And what I believe it means is that not only do you know you don’t have enough staff, but you are terribly worried about the next day and what that can mean,” Beshear said. “It certainly means that you don’t have enough staff for the entire capacity.”

LRC Public Information

Republican lawmakers are gearing up for a possible special legislative session on coronavirus after a court hobbled Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s emergency powers during the pandemic.

Only Beshear has the power to call lawmakers in for a special session. Both the governor and Republican leaders of the legislature say they are negotiating when to call the session and what policies to propose, including whether to renew the official state of emergency for the pandemic.

During a legislative meeting on Wednesday, Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron told lawmakers they “hold the keys” for the state’s emergency response.

“I hope that you all can come to agreement in terms of the governor’s office in terms of how ultimately you will handle additional measures to take in confronting COVID-19,” Cameron said.

Corinne Boyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

At a Monday briefing, Governor Beshear reported Kentucky had more cases of the virus last week than any other point of the pandemic.

Beshear said hospitals are suffering.

“Some COVID patients that are sick are being treated in their cars when there isn’t room for them inside the ER or in the hospital,” he said. “As of today, now 58 of our 96 hospitals are reporting critical staffing shortages.”

The state reported 2,619 new cases and 25 deaths. The positivity rate is at 13.4%. Nearly 2,200 Kentuckians are hospitalized with COVID-19. Beshear said there are only about 115 ICU beds available in the entire state.

Stephen Jerkins | WPLN

Some Tennessee hospitals are already treating more COVID patients than ever. And the statewide total is likely to hit a record this week — surpassing the peak of the winter surge.

ICUs have never been so strained. Nearly a third of the more than 3,000 COVID patients in Tennessee are so sick that they’re being treated in the ICU.

“We have beds. We don’t have the staff to take them. That’s the scary part,” says Taylor Wylie, a charge nurse in the ICU at Centennial Medical Center in Nashville.

Since the surge stretches across the under-vaccinated South, Wylie says they’re getting transfer requests from as far away as Texas and usually having to say no. Alabama, for instance, has a running deficit of ICU beds. Tennessee, at the moment, is at 94% capacity statewide.

Lee Co. Schools

A Lee County Schools instructional assistant died of COVID-19 over the weekend, and three more district staff are hospitalized with the virus. 

District leaders say Lee County Elementary School instructional assistant Heather Antle died Sunday of COVID-19. 

“Ms. Heather Antle…was a special lady who made a positive impact on our students and staff every day with her smile and energetic personality,” a message on the district’s Facebook page reads. “She helped anywhere she was needed, assisted with the archery team for years, and brought great joy to the students and staff that she worked with.”

Lee County Schools Superintendent Sarah Wasson confirmed Antle’s death was caused by coronavirus, and said three more staff members are sick enough to be in the hospital, due to COVID.

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Ballard Health

The Tennessee Guard is now pitching in at 13 hospitals that requested staffing assistance, including the largest hospitals in the state.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville is included in a list of six medical centers who have started receiving help since Monday. Also leaning on the guard are the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville and Regional One Health Medical Center in Memphis.

The two other large Memphis systems — Baptist and Methodist Le Bonheur — were announced last week. And Ballad Health in northeast Tennessee is using 20 guardsmen.

In total, 155 soldiers have deployed to Tennessee hospitals. They represent military medics and non-clinical troops, but they’re generally not being asked to take on clinical roles. Instead, the idea is for troops to take on administrative tasks and free up nurses to work more closely with patients. Staffing has been the primary limiting factor to hospital capacity in Tennessee.

LRC Public Information

Kentucky lawmakers are working with Gov. Andy Beshear to come up with a possible agenda for a special legislative session on coronavirus.

Even though Republican lawmakers worked to restrict Beshear’s powers earlier this year, the party’s leaders in the legislature say they want to preserve some public health policies put in place by the Democratic governor, though they aren’t saying which ones yet.

House Speaker David Osborne, a Republican from Prospect, said several legislators are currently reviewing a list of pandemic priorities sent over by the governor.

“We will develop those plans over the next several days. I would expect that as the governor said, when we are ready, he would call us in to take action,” Osborne said.

Lisa Autry

A bus driver shortage in Kentucky and across the nation is adding to families’ stress as students return to school.  The shortage of bus drivers is complicating the start of a school year already besieged by COVID-19. 

Chip Jenkins is Transportation Director for Warren County Public Schools.  He’s normally behind a desk, but lately he’s been behind the wheel.

“It’s definitely tasking, mentally, physically," Jenkins told WKU Public Radio. "I drive six hours a day myself sometimes.”

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.”


screenshot

Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and leaders of the Republican-led legislature are negotiating exactly how to dissolve a court ruling that blocked new laws limiting the governor’s powers.

The development means Kentucky’s state of emergency related to the coronavirus will remain in effect until Beshear and Republican lawmakers tell Franklin Circuit Court how they’d like to move forward.

The Kentucky Supreme Court ruled last weekend that the lower court incorrectly blocked the laws earlier this year, which include a measure restricting Beshear’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature. The high court ordered Franklin Circuit Court to dissolve its injunction.

But during a status conference on Thursday, lawyers for Beshear and GOP Senate President Robert Stivers asked for 10 days to come up with an agreed plan before the court vacates the ruling.

J. Tyler Franklin

Gov. Andy Beshear is considering calling a special legislative session after the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of new laws limiting his emergency powers last weekend.

A lower court had blocked those laws from going into effect earlier this year, including a measure restricting Beshear’s emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the legislature.

But once Franklin Circuit Court lifts its block on the new laws, most of Beshear’s orders will expire, including the official state of emergency declared by the governor in March 2020. It’s unclear when Franklin Circuit will do that, but a hearing on the case is scheduled for Thursday morning.

That has Beshear and some lawmakers worried Kentucky will lose millions of dollars in federal funding and other resources tied to the emergency declaration.

Corinne Boyer | Ohio Valley ReSource

On an overcast day in Louisville, two men dressed in scrubs get in a truck and leave the Jefferson County Health Department. A few minutes later, they arrive at an apartment complex.

“We’re going to be in and out today,” Capt. Michael Hart with the Kentucky National Guard said as he stood in the apartment’s kitchen.

It’s the home of Tony Leslie, who answered Hart’s questions about COVID-19 and the vaccine. Leslie is one of the first patients on a list of about 10 people the Kentucky National Guardsmen will vaccinate today.

Leslie’s 15 year-old dog Chico barks at the small crowd gathered in the kitchen. Leslie asks to get his second shot in his left arm.


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."

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