Beshear says health decisions based on Kentuckians’ needs, not politics; wishes he could have been more persuasive on vaccines

By Melissa Patrick
Kentucky Health News

Gov. Andy Beshear says the decisions he’s made when it comes to the pandemic and medical marijuana have been made to help Kentuckians, and were not based on politics.

In an interview with Kentucky Health News Dec. 7, Beshear said he decided to suspend in-person school classes, as other states also did, to save lives.

“Every decision I made was about trying to preserve as many Kentucky lives as we could, because I believe that is our job,” he said.

One reason the risks were bigger than in other states is that Kentucky ranks No. 1 for the rate of grandparents raising grandchildren, he said. In Kentucky, 84.5% of the 17,530 Kentuckians who have died from Covid-19 have been 60 and older.

“We can catch a child up on learning loss, but we can’t replace that grandparent that is raising them, that might be the last adult that cares about them,” he said. “They are better off still having that individual here and in their life. And while we can make up for learning loss, we can’t make up for lost life.”

To criticism that his policy led to learning loss and increases in mental-health issues among young people, Beshear said, “So when I look at learning loss, I don’t view it as some political issue to beat each other up over; I view it as our next challenge we’ve got to tackle.”

Further he said, learning loss and test-score declines were already happening in Kentucky before Covid-19.

“The only way for us to make it up to this generation is to have the educators we need,” he said, noting that the state has 11,000 teacher vacancies. He said his Education First Plan, which includes teacher raises, funding for universal pre-K and social and mental health supports, addresses this.

“So Republicans can criticize. I’m trying to do something about it,” he said. “And if they would join me, we can catch our kids up.”

Asked if his recent executive order to allow possession of up to 8 ounces of cannabis for medical purposes for some individuals was timed to be closer to the 2023 legislative session and elections, he said the timing was based on figuring out what his administration could do responsibly.

Asked if he was trying to get the legislature to pass a broader medical-marijuana law, he said, “I’m not trying to pressure the General Assembly, but the people of Kentucky ought to be, because this is something the vast majority demand and their elected representatives are refusing to do it.”

He added, “Either your elected representatives say, well, 80-plus percent of Kentuckians want to do something so it’s our job to do it, or they’re saying that they’re better or smarter than we are. And to me, that’s that’s not acceptable.”

Asked to name the biggest health challenge right now in Kentucky, he said it is the flu, which has killed over two dozen Kentuckians. “We really need people to get their flu shot,” he said. “It’s going to be really effective against this strain and those that have not had the flu shot are getting pretty sick.”

Longer-term, he noted that too many Kentuckians still struggle with a long list of health conditions, like heart disease, cancer, lung cancer, and diabetes, and that it’s important that we get back to addressing those issues, saying it’s time to move from treatment to prevention for these conditions.

“We need to make sure our kids are healthy in their youth to learn, in their adulthood to work and in their senior years to enjoy,” he said. “So health and healthcare will always be a fundamental priority of this administration.”

Asked what he would do over when it comes to health in Kentucky in his last year as governor, Beshear named three things: He would have expanded Medicaid to include hearing, dental and vision benefits earlier than he did; would have already expanded the number of pediatric beds in the state (an effort he said the administration is discussing); and he wishes he could have figured out what else to say to get more Kentuckians vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19.

Seemingly describing his own thinking, Beshear said, “What’s that next thing you could say that will get more people to get vaccinated, and that’s not just me, that’s everyone.”

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