Concerns expressed at Thursday’s community briefing by local health officials regarding the resources that are being stretched thin due to the COVID-19 crisis were not limited to hospital beds and equipment.
“I would say we have really done a good job from the early days of looking at our surge plan and identifying the number of beds, where to put people and allocate resources,” said Dr. Jenny Frank, chief clinical officer at Mercy Health-Lourdes Hospital.
“The interesting thing is our most limited resource right now is staff,” she said, in response to a media question. “Because staff are getting ill.
“Whereas early in the pandemic if there was a surge in New York, they could ask (for help) from traveling nurses from Arizona, or Montana, or Tennessee. Now we’re seeing an increase in cases across the country and even though we are asking for temporary help from traveling nurses, etc., they’re just not available,” she said.
“Every portion of the country is dealing with the surge, so we are doing the very best we can to not only accommodate the care of our patients due to COVID, but as I mentioned other patients, certainly getting to a situation where reducing the number of elective procedures is a possibility. We look at that several times a day.
“That’s our limited resource, not beds ... it’s nursing staff, really.”
Gov. Andy Beshear also expressed concern about about health care workers this week, in announcing single-day records of new cases Thursday and Friday.
“As our needs are increasing, more of our front line — our only line — health care workers are getting infected. More and more are in quarantine after a possible exposure, too.
“So as our need goes up, our capacity and ability to help people goes down,” he said, in emphasizing why he announced additional steps Wednesday.
Kent Koster, director of the Purchase District Health Department, also expressed some concern over the impact of the pandemic on staff.
“Our team has been working around the clock, seven days a week,” he said.
“Many are putting in an extra week’s work every two weeks. They’re very stressed out and many times I see them in tears, such as I’m sure we see our health care workers many times with tears.
“I just want to impress upon all of those who, for whatever reasons, have not or are not following the basic guidance that we’ve been trying to educate our people to adhere to, that the number of people who are getting this virus now is escalating.
“There’s probably someone from your family or your neighbors who have been exposed to COVID-19 and have tested positive and maybe suffered some serious health issues, maybe even death,” he said.
Statistics Koster shared Thursday indicate the rise in cases in McCracken County. A month ago, there were 107 active cases, and Thursday that number was 857. A month ago, there had been 13 deaths in McCracken County; Thursday that had risen to 24.
The overwhelming number of new cases is impacting the health department’s ability to do traditional contact tracing, according to Koster. The department is also being overwhelmed by the number of phone calls and messages that are coming in from the community.
“We ask that you be patient with us as we navigate this period of transition,” Koster said. “Messages are being returned in the order they are received, so please, don’t leave multiple messages.”