Hospital staff shortages spreading across Kentucky as COVID-19 cases surge

Published 9:59 pm Friday, August 27, 2021

Staffing shortages have spread to more Kentucky hospitals as medical teams treat record numbers of COVID-19 patients from a relentless coronavirus surge, Gov. Andy Beshear said Friday.

More than half the state’s hospitals are struggling with “critical staffing shortages,” the governor said. The staffing crunch was more widespread than the prior day, when Beshear reported that one-third of hospitals statewide were in such dire staffing situations.

It reflects the growing stress the highly contagious delta variant is putting on hospitals.

“We all ought to be significantly worried about our health care capacity,” Beshear said Friday. “It is overwhelmed in certain regions and it certainly is at risk to be fully overwhelmed statewide.”

Virus-related hospitalizations rose 43 straight days through Thursday, when the state had its highest number of COVID patients hospitalized, in intensive care units and on ventilators.

Those totals were eclipsed on Friday with 2,129 virus patients in hospitals, 592 in intensive care and 349 on ventilators. The escalation has been precipitous since July 14, when Kentucky had 239 COVID patients hospitalized, including 60 in intensive care and 25 patients on ventilators.

The state reported 4,815 new COVID-19 cases on Friday and 18 more virus-related deaths.

In another plea for Kentuckians to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the governor noted that 90% of virus-related hospitalizations and ICU admissions are among the unvaccinated.

“People should rightfully be very scared of the delta variant,” he said Friday. “I’ve been careful about saying phrases like that, but this variant is that serious, it is that aggressive.”

The governor’s grim update came as he announced the final round of winners in Kentucky’s “Shot at a Million” sweepstakes — an incentive program to encourage people to get the COVID-19 shots.

Mary Mattingly of Louisville became the third and final winner of a $1 million prize.

The last five young Kentuckians to win full scholarships also were announced.

Since announcing the sweepstakes in early June, the governor said more than 419,000 additional Kentuckians have received the COVID-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile, Beshear said he’s had “constructive conversations” with leading lawmakers as he weighs whether to call a special legislative session to deal with COVID-19 issues.

The Democratic governor’s ability to act unilaterally to combat the pandemic was reined in by a state Supreme Court ruling. Now, COVID policies will be decided by the GOP-dominated legislature.

Beshear said Friday that before he brings lawmakers back to the state Capitol, he wants to “get to a point where we can achieve something through it.”

“I’ll take whatever tools they will give me and I will fight my hardest,” he said. “How successful we can be depends on the level of tools that we get.”

Various virus-related emergency measures issued by Beshear are set to expire as a result of the Supreme Court decision last week. It’s up to lawmakers to decide whether to keep them in place.

Lawmakers gained the upper hand when the state’s high court cleared the way for new laws to limit the governor’s emergency powers, which he used to impose virus-related restrictions previously. The justices said a lower court wrongly blocked the GOP-backed measures.

Issues in a special session should include increasing the number of nontraditional instruction or learning-from-home days a school district can use, Beshear said. A growing number of districts canceled classes in recent days in response to virus outbreaks.

“Schools are getting slammed,” the governor said. “And it’s staffing, it’s students, it’s bus drivers. And we’ve got to give them the flexibility they need.”

Beshear also continued pressing for a statewide mask mandate indoors to combat the virus surge, saying it would save lives.

“I think the legislature is going to need to do a statewide mask order,” he said. “And that’s going to be on them.”