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Kentucky Hospitals Plead for Help to Fight COVID-19

The officials primarily raised concerns about staffing shortages. A nursing home official said the closure of some nursing homes in the state is possible without help, noting that a nursing home in Oldham County already has closed because of COVID-19.

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(TNS) - Officials with Kentucky hospitals and nursing homes appealed for help Thursday from state lawmakers to fight the coronavirus pandemic that is overwhelming their facilities.

The officials primarily raised concerns about staffing shortages. A nursing home official said the closure of some nursing homes in the state is possible without help, noting that a nursing home in Oldham County already has closed because of COVID-19.

State legislators are preparing for a special session on COVID-19 that could begin early next week. Gov. Andy Beshear has said he wants to call a special session soon due to a recent Kentucky Supreme Court decision last month that said COVID-19 emergency measures need legislative approval, not just the governor’s say.

Members of the legislature’s Health and Welfare committees heard nearly three hours of testimony Thursday on steps to deal with the pandemic.

Senate Health and Welfare Chair Ralph Alvarado, R- Winchester, told the hospital and nursing home officials that they can expect funding to help retain and recruit nurses, aides, respiratory therapists and EMS personnel.

Alvarado, a physician, also said the legislature will look at expanding what paramedics can do in hospitals, proving more rapid testing of COVID-19 for hospitals and nursing homes, finding ways to administer more treatment for the virus, helping certain health-related boards to recruit retired people to help, and extending liability protection.

Nancy Galvagni, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association, gave the lawmakers some grim statistics about Kentucky hospitals and the pandemic.

She said COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state are at a record high, growing from just over 500 patients at the end of July to 2,267 on Sept. 1.

COVID-19 patients are now occupying one-half of all intensive care unit beds in the state, she said, adding that as of Wednesday, there were only 135 open and staffed ICU beds statewide.

Many hospitals are postponing medically necessary procedures, such as knee replacements, hernia repairs and certain cancer treatments, said Galvagni.

She said this hurts patients and hospitals’ revenue, pointing out that hospitals do not profit as much from COVID-19 patients because they tend to be sicker and require more treatment and more staff for longer periods of time.

The General Assembly, said Galvagni, can help by continuing Beshear’s state of emergency, with its relaxed regulations; passing legislation to allow health care workers to work in hospitals outside their normal practice; providing an appropriation to cover a portion of the costs to keep existing staff and to hire a limited number of traveling nurses from other states.

Betsy Johnson, president of the Kentucky Health Care Facilities Association, said nursing homes’ primary needs are support for staffing. It represents 272 long-term care providers across the state.

She said many need “support to build back our workforce.” Since May 2020, about 14,624 skilled nursing care home residents in the state have had the virus and 2,606 have died.

The good news, Johnson said, is that the vaccine is working and most of the deaths occurred before the shots were rolled out.

She said nursing homes are now safe because residents have been receptive to the vaccine. But, she noted, only 51 percent of the skilled nursing home workforce has been vaccinated and that President Biden on Aug. 18 said all skilled nursing facilities will have to fully vaccinate against COVID-19 later this year.

The federal order will “place us in a severe disadvantage in competing for workforce,” said Johnson, expressing concern that some workers will quit.

“We already are short-staffed,” she said, adding that the workforce is facing “mental and physical exhaustion.”

Besides discussing the plight of hospitals and nursing homes, the legislative committee heard testimony about daycare centers

The biggest issue raised was mandating masks in daycares. Beshear last month ordered masks in child-care centers for all students 2 years and older, as well as staff, teachers and visitors. He later rescinded that order after the Supreme Court decision, but the Kentucky Department for Public Health approved an emergency regulation with the same requirement.

Sen. Danny Carroll, R-Paducah, told the committee that he was working on legislation to give daycare centers the option of whether to require masks or not.

Jennifer Washburn, executive director of iKids Childhood Enrichment Center in Benton, said requiring masks for 2-year-olds is “like putting a mask on a cat.”

The special session to address these issues may come as early as Tuesday, Beshear said at a news conference.

“There are some tools that I believe we need that they’re going to have to decide whether we get,” he said. “That’s certainly masking — general masking — and whether that is the power to do it when necessary or the power to do it in high transmission areas,” he said.

The Democratic governor also said the legislature’s decision on whether to give him the authority to mandate masking will make a “big difference in our outcome” in terms of stopping community spread.

Republican legislative leaders have said they are leaning more toward local options on masking.

Reporter Alex Acquisto contributed to this story.

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