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Rural Kentucky hospital navigates capacity issues, staff shortage

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Posted at 6:01 PM, Aug 25, 2021

ROWAN COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky continues to set records for people hospitalized, in ICUs and on ventilators as COVID-19 overwhelms hospital systems.

St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead is one of the many hospitals feeling the strain. On Monday, they moved to a "code yellow" disaster response.

"We won't let the system collapse, but the system is already broken in," said CEO and President Donald Lloyd II.

The hospital services eight counties surrounding Rowan county and are currently treating more patients than they have staff for. They're staffed for 75 patients, but as of Wednesday are treating more than 106 patients. That's not including the 35 patients that would be normally admitted, who are being treated from home.

"If this pace of illness in the population continues to increase, we will be having to treat patients in field hospitals again, because there simply isn't any more capacity," Lloyd said.

Lloyd says they are considering opening a third ICU.

"We're taking nontraditional patient care areas and converting them to beds right now," said Lloyd.

As the only major hospital in the rural area of Rowan county, there's not really another choice. Transfers are very minimal due to the same capacity issues at other hospitals.

"There's no room. Every hospital that we're aware of is full," explained Lloyd.

Their situation is not an isolated one. According to the Kentucky Department for Public Health, about 85% of the state's ICU beds are currently in use, more than a third are occupied by COVID-19 patients.

The combination of scarce beds and scarce staff has been tough to navigate.

"We could get to a point where we just simply don't have enough clinicians to manage those patients," said Lloyd.

Governor Beshear says between 21 and 25 of the state's regional hospitals are at a critical staffing shortage stage like St. Claire.

That's why he's asked the National Guard and FEMA to help.

"Collectively between the two programs that would provide another 23 clinicians of some type, could be physicians, could be nurses, could be paramedics, respiratory therapists. At this juncture, anybody that has clinical training would be very beneficial to us," said Lloyd.

Governor Beshear expects help from the National Guard to come on September 1. He says five teams of 75 people will deploy in 2-week increments into the fall.