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Healthcare workers speak out about challenges they face as Kentucky surpasses record number of COVID-19 patients

Hospital hallway
Posted at 10:47 PM, Aug 23, 2021

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky hospitals are facing critical nurse and other staff shortages as a record number of COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, in the intensive care unit, or on a ventilator.

On Monday, Governor Beshear announced Kentucky now has a record 1,893 COVID patients hospitalized, with 529 people in the ICU, and 301 people on ventilators.

"This is a very scary time and be careful in everything else," Governor Beshear said. "This is going to be the worst time in my life to be in a car accident or to have other health problems so take care of yourself."

In Morehead, St. Claire Regional Medical Center has had to expand into other units to make room for COVID-19 patients, according to Dr. William Melahn, Chief Medical Officer for St. Claire.

The hospital is also understaffed by about two dozen nurses.

"We currently have more critical patients than beds so we're in a temporary overflow intensive care unit or we wouldn't be able to do it," Dr. Melahn said.

In Danville, Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center staff is seeing the devastating effects of COVID-19 on patients, according to Steve Haines, the hospital's nursing director of critical care services.

"Over the weekend we lost eight patients within 24 hours," he said. "We only have like a three-bed morgue at the hospital so we actually were overwhelmed by what we had and we were kind of frantically scrambling to try to rent a refrigerator truck and take care of these people."

Both Dr. Melahn and Haines said the vast majority of COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.

About 85% of patients at St. Claire are unvaccinated, Dr. Melahn said.

"The vaccinated ones are not as sick as the unvaccinated ones. I believe our entire critical population is unvaccinated," he said.

Vaccination would help to alleviate the pressure Kentucky's hospitals are feeling, Haines said.

"Right now it just looks like there's no end and I think the only chance we have is vaccination," he said.

Kentucky National Guard members will begin assisting some Kentucky hospitals on September 1, Governor Beshear said. He has also requested additional healthcare workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.