Hospitals in Kentucky and across the country continue to struggle to fill vacancies as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.
WKU Public Radio reporter Rhonda Miller spoke to Robert Parker, CEO of Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital in Somerset, about the vaccination status of COVID patients and staff, and the shortage of medical professionals and support staff.
Parker: The staffing situation here in Lake Cumberland indeed remains a significant challenge. Not just in nursing, but in all of our fields. To talk about nursing first, we currently have 104 vacancies for nursing. It is a phenomenon that is going to be a challenge throughout the year, until 2022 and maybe even beyond. You know, we’ve seen a lot of nurses change careers. It is also endemic in other areas of the hospital, as well as in different areas, from respiratory therapy to radiology departments, to food and dietary services, virtually all of them. Coming out of the pandemic, there are certain areas that all hospitals will need to focus on, not just Lake Cumberland.
Miller: Let me ask you about the nursing situation. You said you have 104 vacancies for nurses. What is the general staffing amount?
Parker: Approximately 700 nursing positions in total.
Miller: You have 700 nursing positions, so you only have about 600 filled and 104 vacant?
Parker: Correct. And so, how it works, Rhonda, how we manage to manage is that we have the nurses who have extra shifts and things like that. So, of course, it’s not optimal. Some of them like to work those extra shifts, but some of them would rather not.
Miller: Yes, it is a very demanding job in the first place.
Parker: Yeah, that’s how we get away with it.
Miller: I know there was an announcement from a dozen healthcare companies in Kentucky where the CEOs or management all said we were going to require COVID-19 vaccinations for all staff. Did your hospital join this announcement or did you not?
Parker: No, our company did not originally. Our particular company was not the one that originally joined this group.
Miller: So at this point do you have any unvaccinated people working in the hospital?
Parker: What we are currently working on is news we have heard about federal COVID-19 vaccine requirements. We are working quickly to establish policies and protocols to respond to this. It appears that the CMS rules that come out, as we understand them, will become a mandate within all CMS-affiliated healthcare facilities.
Miller: What is a CMS?
Parker: It’s the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Miller: What is your total number of staff at Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital?
Parker: About 1,200 in total.
Miller: Do you have a count or approximate percentage of all those people who are vaccinated?
Parker: Yes, we are at 70%.
Miller: How are the COVID patients doing in the beds you have?
Parker: These patients have other health conditions, usually those admitted for COVID. But in general, I would say 90-95% of our patients admitted in the last two months during this Delta variant phase of the pandemic, we would say were unvaccinated.
Miller: Is there anything else you would like to add, as someone who has to deal with this every day and has been dealing with this COVID pandemic for a year and a half or more now?
Parker: Yes, we are encouraged to see some of the pandemic rates continue to decline. And I would also say that our team members, it’s hard to say they’re not tired and tired, because it’s true, they are tired and tired. But they remain resilient, and they remain very strong, as we continue to care for these patients, they are so inspiring to see.
Miller: Well, Robert, thank you very much for talking with me. I know this is a very stressful time for everyone in healthcare.
Parker: Thanks very much. I appreciate your time, Rhonda.
Miller: Ok thank you goodbye
Parker: OK bye bye.
Miller: I spoke with Robert Parker. He is the CEO of Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital. I’m Rhonda Miller in Bowling Green.