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'Critical is a fair word' for situation inside Kentucky hospitals as COVID-19 cases spike again

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Posted at 12:46 AM, Aug 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-20 06:37:20-04

FORT THOMAS, Ky. — Dr. Jim Horn counted five COVID-19 patients staying overnight at St. Elizabeth in mid-July. On Thursday, he counted 50.

“I think critical is a fair word” to describe the situation, he said.

He’s tired. St. Elizabeth Health Care’s chief nurse, Vera Hall, is tired, too. And many of the colleagues they knew in March 2020, after being tasked with caring nonstop during a 17-month global crisis, have moved on to other jobs or resigned themselves to working despite their emotional exhaustion.

“We’ve seen people leaving health care altogether,” Hall said. “We’ve seen people opt out because, quite frankly, they’ve kind of reached their end point with it.”

State data shows almost 70% of Kentucky’s intensive care beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients — more than at any prior point during the pandemic. Daily diagnosis numbers in the state are rising back into the thousands, fueled by the highly contagious delta variant of the virus.

The toll of working in health care now is high, Hall said. It affects more than nurses and doctors. Therapists, lab workers and nutritional staff at St. Elizabeth have all struggled with ongoing fatigue.

They’re destined to struggle more if the virus variant continues to spread.

And Horn said, as St. Elizabeth’s chief quality officer, that he’s been in meetings where officials begin to discuss worst-case scenarios, like the one that struck health care systems in 2020. What happens if they don’t have enough beds? Enough workers? Enough machines?

“All of our services are still open, so that can be used as a potential marker,” he said. “But I can say we have daily meetings to discuss what non-essential or elective services may be needed to be scaled back or temporarily curtailed to ensure that we continue to have the capacity that we want to take care of all of our patients in our community."