Hospitals and assisted living facilities need immediate relief as critical low staffing means life or death in some areas of Kentucky, advocates tell lawmakers

With huge increases in COVID-19 cases across the state, Kentucky hospitals are overwhelmed with patients and don’t have enough staff to deal with the cases.

Kentucky Hospital Association President Nancy Galvagni told legislators having open beds at a hospital doesn’t necessarily mean they have the nurses or other personnel to provide care to a patient. She stated there are more than 150,000 nursing positions open nationwide and thousands of open positions in Kentucky, which drives up the demand and cost staffing positions and there is competition among states for talent in this critical field.

Galvagni told members of the Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare, and Family Services on Thursday that even one or two more nurses at a smaller facility in Kentucky could be the difference between life and death for these patients.

As hospitals struggle to staff enough health care professionals, she added the costs of COVID-19 patients and the loss of revenue are putting a strain on our facilities.

To address some of these issues, Galvagni asked that the General Assembly to consider legislation to allow other health care workers such as medical assistants, LPNs and others to work outside their normal scope of practice within a hospital and under appropriate supervision to provide immediate relief and expand care. She also asked lawmakers to maintain the state of emergency and consider providing appropriations to help hospitals cover a portion of escalating cost of staffing as other states have through federal funds.

Skilled long-term care facilities are also struggling with their workforce, especially as a federal mandate would require all employees of these facilities to be vaccinated. Currently, only 51% of that workforce has received the vaccine in Kentucky, Kentucky Center for Assisted Living Facilities President Betsy Johnson told legislators.

Johnson told committee members that the majority of Kentucky facilities say they expect to lose at least 11% of their workforce as a result of the mandate, and survey results show 4% of those employees would not only leave the health care field but would plan to remain unemployed.

She noted these facilities are different than other industries, as they are open 24 hours a day and no part of the operation can be shut down. Many of these employees are exhausted from the workload throughout the pandemic, as they have had to step up and play the role of a family member, since many facilities had tight restrictions on visitation from outside guests during the early stages of the pandemic, Johnson added.

Like the request from the hospitals, Johnson asked the legislature to consider using federal funds to invest in the long-term skilled facilities workforce to ensure the dire shortage does not continue to get worse.

In the same meeting, lawmakers also heard about struggle being faced by childcare facilities across the state ahead of a potential special session.

Sen. Danny Carroll said 1,019 regulated childcare centers have been affected with positive cases, including 1,309 cases in infants up to 13 years old and 1,379 staff cases.

Carroll said he is working on legislation to guide childcare centers as the state moves forward to allow them to operate in a safe and efficient manner.

Lawmakers heard from iKids Childhood Enrichment Center Owner Jennifer Washburn, who discussed the struggles many providers have seen with staffing, keeping masks on the youngest children (especially two- and three-year-olds), developmental delays and behavioral issues, and more.

The best practices helping to keep centers open and have the least amount of cases and exposure were discussed, and a request for additional funding to help support increased costs of staffing and operations was made.

Lawmakers are expected to be called into a special session to deal with many of these issues and other COVID-19 struggles as early as Tuesday. Stay tuned to The Bottom Line for more details.

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Jacqueline Pitts
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