Kentucky Hospital Association

Dr. Sunil Sharma, chief of pulmonary critical care and sleep medicine at West Virginia University, said the Mountain State ran out of ICU beds twice during COVID-19 surges. 

Sharma led a study that looked at the mortality rates of rural COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units. The study found that rural ICU patients have a greater chance of dying than ICU patients in urban areas. 

Of 81 patients, 54% died within 30 days of being admitted to an ICU. Compared to urban areas where that number is 30%. 

Sharma said there are many reasons why the outcomes are so different. 

“We have reduced access to care, which is pretty apparent, because these are far flung areas, sometimes they have to drive for several hours to you and get medical attention,” Sharma said.

Stephanie Wolf

A surge of COVID-19 patients across the state and country might mean rationing of a coronavirus treatment in Kentucky.

Monoclonal antibodies have proven to be among the most effective treatments for COVID-19. As more people become hospitalized with COVID, the demand for the treatment has steadily increased, and the federal government has decided to ration it.

Governor Andy Beshear estimated the state will receive 4,500 treatments a week under the new guidelines. Last week, the commonwealth used over 5,000 treatments. Beshear says it’s unlikely the state has the supplies needed to make up the difference.

“Doctors are gonna have to use other things that haven’t proven to be as good as this treatment,” said Beshear. “They are gonna have to look at individuals and make the tough decisions about who gets the best medication and who doesn’t.”

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.”

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.

Blake Farmer | WPLN

It’s a struggle for Joe Gammon to talk right now.

Lying in his ICU bed at Ascension Saint Thomas West, he uses a suction tube to clear his own throat. Even dislodging some phlegm has become a struggle.

“If I would have known six months ago that this could be possible, this would have been a no-brainer,” the 45-year-old father of six says after weeks in critical condition. “But I honestly didn’t think I was at any risk. That is the naive portion on my end.”

Gammon is a truck driver from Lascassas who says he listens to a lot of conservative talk radio. And the daily diatribes downplaying the pandemic and promoting personal freedom were enough dissuade him from vaccination.

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.”

Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital

Kentucky hospitals are asking for help retaining healthcare workers and boosting resources as Gov. Andy Beshear considers calling a special legislative session for lawmakers to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The delta variant of the virus is still surging across Kentucky, with nearly two-thirds of hospitals reporting critical staffing shortages on Thursday.

The state had 4,941 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday—the third highest total reported during the pandemic—and a positivity rate of 13.35 percent.

Nancy Galvagni, president of Kentucky Hospital Association, told lawmakers on Thursday that 54 percent of hospitals in the state have no ICU beds available.

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.

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.

Gov. Beshear: Kentucky Reaches COVID-19 Record-Highs

Aug 24, 2021
J. Tyler Franklin

Kentucky’s health care facilities face staff and space shortages as the delta variant causes COVID-19 cases to skyrocket. 

On Monday, Gov. Andy Beshear reported the pandemic’s highest number of hospitalized patients, statewide – 1,893. The state also reached record high numbers for residents in intensive care units, 529, and hooked up to ventilators, 301.

“Here we are, at a time when we have vaccines, when we know that masks work, with our third highest week of cases ever, and the highest positivity,” Beshear said. “COVID is burning through our population here in Kentucky.”

Steve Haines is the nursing director of critical care services at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center in Danville. He described the latest wave of the pandemic as horrific.

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.”

Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

During the height of the previous COVID-19 surge in January 2021, Norton Children’s Hospital saw up to three COVID-positive pediatric patients in total. One of those cases was serious enough to send to the ICU. 

Now, those numbers look different. 

“This morning, we had 11 in-patients and four ICU patients,” said Dr. Mark McDonald, medical director of Norton Children’s Hospital. “In general, each day we get three new admissions of COVID patients.” 

None of the children currently being treated for COVID-19 at Norton Children’s have been vaccinated against it, according to McDonald. He says that half of the hospitalized children are 12-years-old or younger and half are older than 12.

The Medical Center at Bowling Green

Hospitals in southern Kentucky are among the increasing number of health care facilities being inundated with COVID patients.

Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday during a news conference that more and more hospitals across the state are at—or quickly reaching—capacity. Evidence of that is being seen in south-central Kentucky, with the head of emergency medicine at Med Center Health in Bowling Green telling media outlets Friday that his hospital has a full ICU, as well as a constantly full waiting area outside the emergency room.

Dr. William Moss said at least 90% of the COVID patients in his emergency room are unvaccinated, and that the number of people on ventilators was up to 11 as of Friday morning.