Conditions were poor last fall at a hospital in northeastern Kentucky during a Covid climb. They’re worse now

“I have held in the hands of people who die of Covid,” he said. “I have had close friends who have lost their lives, even at my age,” said Parker Banks, 35. “I have had someone who was like another mother to me who lost her battle.”

There are “just no words for what we are experiencing right now at the forefront of health care,” the doctor said.

While the Omicron variant continues to blow the country, Kentucky hit a record high positivity rate for Covid-19 this week: Nearly one in three – 30.25% – residents tested positive for the virus.

“The increase is significant, serious,” Governor Andy Beshear said, with “72,165 new cases in one week, far more than any other increase we’ve had.”

And state health personnel again carry the bulk of the brutal wave.

In rural areas like Owingsville, Kentucky, where Parker Banks works, resources are stretched and health workers are even sick.

“It definitely puts pressure on the system, on an already strained system,” Parker Banks said. “Right now, we probably have a 40% reduction in staff today, today, due to Covid or Covid exposure. With that, everyone else here has to pick up a significant amount.”

And although the Omicron variant in general causes less serious illness than Delta before it, the overwhelming number of infected people has led to full intensive care units again.

“It seems that because Omicron generally seems to be a milder disease compared to the Delta, we still have a lot of hospitalizations because a lot of people are affected just by the large number,” said Dr. Steve Koenig, Medical Director. of the Lung Department at St. Claire Regional Medical Center.

Koenig said he thinks fewer people need fans now than during the Delta rise. Yet not much has changed for many frontline health workers. They still see many very sick people.

“It’s rare to get an open bed,” said Phelan Bailey, administrative director of the emergency department / critical care at St. Claire HealthCare and Morehead. Patients wait 12 to 20 hours or so on a bed, and a few weeks ago “we had patients who were down there (in the emergency room) for 24 hours or more,” Bailey said.

During a wave in September, Kentucky's National Guard assisted at St.  Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead.
The Morehead facility was so flooded in September that the National Guard was called in to help. The difference between now and then, Bailey said, is that “we’ve had a lot of nurses who have left the facility, left the health care system in general, just because of the enormous stress that the patient’s sharpness has put on them.”

“We’ve had several who have either gone on some form of leave or actually just completely left the workforce due to stress,” he said.

When they check in with staff members, “they will tell us you know I’m at my breaking point. It’s just too much. I see too much illness, too much death,” Bailey said.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated persons account for almost 80% of these cases, almost 85% of hospitalizations and more than 83% of deaths.

This fact increases the strain on the staff, who know that the serious illness and death could have been prevented.

“When we fill up beds for what I feel like something that could mostly be prevented with vaccines and masking, it’s very hard to keep seeing the nurses keep pulling it read over and over again every day, “says Charlotte Kinney, head nurse at St. Claire Regional Medical Center.

“My biggest fear right now is not dealing with the disease,” said Donald Lloyd, St. Claire’s CEO. “It retains the resilience of our clinicians and our nurses and our therapists and all the teams, they are exhausted and they feel frustrated.”

“To some extent, they feel deprived of the court because, you know, the begging and begging people to wear masks, get vaccinated, and that message just has not resonated as effectively as we wanted,” Lloyd said.

One Covid-19 patient at St. Claire is among those who are not fully vaccinated. Sharry Conn, 80, got a shot of a vaccine but fell ill before she could get the other one, she said. Conn, who has diabetes and asthma, credits that a shot prevented her from getting even more ill.

“As far as I can understand, I did not feel bad, like some people, for some people will not take such pictures,” Conn said.

Now, she said when she’s released, she’ll get the second shot.

CNN’s Miguel Marquez and Aaron Cooper reported from Morehead, and Theresa Waldrop wrote from Atlanta.

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