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Two-Thirds Of Kentucky Hospitals 'Critically' Short Staffed, Nursing Students Pitch In

AP Photo/Petr David Josek

Two-thirds of Kentucky hospitals currently face what they describe as critical staffing shortages. The healthcare providers are grappling with twin challenges – a punishing surge in COVID patients as their ranks are thinning.

Mark Vogt is CEO of Galen College of Nursing, whose students are being asked to do more in a time when their profession is under strain. In response to communities in "very dire need," Vogt reports students and faculty are "traveling around the commonwealth, driving hours to provide a second set of hands to these facilities." 

Also on hand at a number of hospitals are National Guard members, there to take on administrative, food service, and other duties, with the goal of freeing up staff to work more directly with patients.

Hospitalizations from COVID-19 are at a record high in Kentucky, with more than 9,000 beds filled, and an increasing percentage of new cases are in young residents ages. Compare the pie chart of new positives last August to this August and it’s hard not to notice the larger slice taken up by younger people.

"One in every four is a kid under 18 years old," Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday. "That's why we're seeing those school closings, more kids in the hospital, and we're ultimately going to lose more kids nationwide and we hope not here in Kentucky."

Beshear added that only two pediatric ICUs exist in the state, meaning children who need intensive care can end up in facilities not designed to handle them.

Around 30 school districts have had to pause instruction due to the rise in COVID cases among students, that’s as young people under 12 remain ineligible for a vaccine. Pfizer has signaled that emergency use of vaccines in children ages 5-12 could start in late fall or early winter.

Conversations about Kentucky’s future COVID-19 policies continue behind the scenes as the governor and lawmakers strategize for an anticipated special legislative session. 

With a Supreme Court decision delivering more power to the General Assembly when it comes to setting pandemic policy, all eyes have been on an expected legislative session. During the second of his weekly briefings, the Democrat stopped short of making the announcement, but hinted that it’s likely in the coming days.

"I see it soon. We're still awaiting word in whether we have enough agreement to get that going as soon as we would hope," the governor said. "I believe that it is certainly possible that we have a special session as early as Tuesday, but that's not announcing that we're having one on Tuesday." 

Some big questions facing the legislature: whether to extend the state of emergency, grant the governor any leeway to mandate masks in any settings, and how to handle schools that might rapidly exhaust their virtual or non-traditional instruction days that count toward yearly attendance.

It’s a full plate that lawmakers insist they can tackle during the typically short, five-day window of a special session. But Beshear has previously predicted the shifting demands of the COVID era may prove difficult for the full legislature to negotiate.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.