Hospital leaders concerned about potential shortage of healthcare workers as cases rise

Posted at 12:21 AM, Nov 24, 2020

GEORGETOWN, Ky. (LEX 18) — As hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to increase across Kentucky, some hospital leaders say one of their main concerns is ensuring they have enough staff to care for a potential influx of patients.

On Monday, Gov. Andy Beshear warned the state is nearing a point where hospitals could be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients right as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches.

"What happens if we double in the next two weeks on a system that is already facing these problems?" Gov. Beshear asked.

As community spread increases, Gov. Beshear says more healthcare workers are catching COVID-19 or have to quarantine because they've had contact with someone who has.

"Staff is certainly our most precious resource," said Dr. Philip Overall, director of pandemic response for St. Claire Healthcare in Morehead.

According to Overall, the pandemic has been especially hard on nurses. He's seen increased turnover in nurses, many of whom have left for other jobs.

"It's tough and it's getting tougher," he said. "It's getting really challenging to take care of these patients. It takes a lot of effort, it takes a lot of time. It takes a lot of compassion."

The hospital has a plan to expand its capacity and change up staffing if it sees an increase in COVID-19 patients. While expanded capacity had not been necessary as of Monday, Dr. Overall said it could be needed soon.

"We have staff, we just may have to reallocate those staff into different areas," Dr. Overall said.

At Georgetown Community Hospital in Scott County, CEO William Haugh said the number of patients would have to double before their surge plan would be necessary.

Haugh is also market president for Lifepoint Central Kentucky, with hospitals in Versailles, Georgetown, Paris and Winchester. He said there's been a steady increase in COVID-19 patients across all hospitals.

The surge plan for the hospitals would include limiting elective procedures to allow space for more COVID-19 patients.

"Is it gonna get tough? Is it gonna get tight? It could, absolutely," Haugh said. "But we feel comfortable with the plans we have in place going forward."

On Monday, Gov. Beshear urged Kentuckians to adhere to the new COVID-19 restrictions that include changes for bars, restaurants, gyms and schools.

Gov. Beshear says if the restrictions are followed, it should stop the spread of the virus and take some pressure off Kentucky hospitals.

"We're taking action before, before the point of no return because that point is close folks," Gov. Beshear said.