‘I have never seen anything like it’ in 40 years of hospital work, says administrator of Morehead hospital, still overrrun

Kentucky hospitals have seen fewer cases of Covid-19 lately, but the number who are in intensive care, with the majority of those on mechanical ventilation, still pose major challenges for hospitals, especially those that remain understaffed.

That is made clear by a chilling story in The Daily Yonder by Kentucky writer Liz Carey, about St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead. CEO Don Lloyd told her that it’s just an example of many hospitals facing their most difficult challenge ever.

“This fourth surge here in this region has been the worst of all the surges since the beginning of the pandemic,” Lloyd said. “It’s not only for St. Claire but for all the institutions throughout Kentucky, whether you’re in Western or Eastern or Central, it doesn’t make a difference; it’s just horrendous.”

In this surge, a much greater share of Covid-19 patients are critically ill. About half those at Morehead have used some sort of breathing apparatus, about half of those will be put on mechanical ventilation, and about 75 percent of those will die, Lloyd said. And keeping them alive is a big job, Carey writes:

Patients with Covid are often treated through what is called “proning,” he said. In this treatment, patients lay on their stomachs for a period of time before being turned over. But turning a patient isn’t as simple as flipping them onto their back.

“It requires six people to turn those patients because they’re still hooked to a ventilator, and they have all sorts of lines and drains in them,” he said. “You need to be very judicious and careful. At the very best, that is a 15- to 20-minute process. … When you have 22 people on ventilators, that’s a massive undertaking and utilization of clinical resources.”

To augment the clinical staff, the hospital has trained non-clinical staff to help with turning patients. Additionally, 30 nursing students are volunteering their time to help. But still, he said, there’s not enough nurses to care for the volume of patients the hospital is seeing.

Lloyd told Carey, “I’ve been doing this for 40 years,” he said. “I’ve been through, maybe 15 or so hurricanes up to a category 5 on a couple of occasions. I’ve been through man-made disasters, and terrible, terrible multi-vehicle accidents, but the death and carnage that I have witnessed and my teams have witnessed for almost two months now… I have never seen anything like it.

“I’ve had nurses that have just fallen apart after holding up an iPad so a family could say goodbye or holding the hand of somebody in ICU as they pass,” he said. “You know, it’s worth it. When you sign up for this business, you know, you have to do those things occasionally, but you don’t expect to do it five times in one shift.”
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