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Ky. Lawmakers Hear Testimony on Hospital Staffing Shortages

From the Legislative Research Commission

Lawmakers heard testimony Thursday on how staffing shortages are impacting Kentucky’s hospitals and how they can help. 

The Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services met at the Kentucky State Fair where Nancy Galvagni, president of the Kentucky Hospital Association, highlighted a growing issue with transporting patients.

Citing experts in the field, Galvagni said that fewer ambulances are available to transport patients from one hospital to another due to staffing shortages and the high demand for ambulance services.

“Across the state, hospitals are discovering that many times when we call, the ambulance simply doesn’t come,” said Galvagni. “Patients who have suffered from strokes, severe burns or even suicide attempts are languishing for hours and sometimes days at a hospital emergency room waiting for transport to the appropriate level of care.”

Galvagni said hospitals understand being short staffed because they are facing the same issue. The COVID-19 pandemic has only made the nationwide nursing shortage worse, and nurses, along with other hospital staff, are burnt out.

“They have mental distress through having to work longer shifts, taking on more patients and that has led to retirements and resignations,” Galvagni said.

Since nearly every hospital in the country is having this issue, Kentucky’s hospitals are running low on funds to hire travel nurses, she said, adding that “few hospitals can pay $150 to $200 an hour for traveling nurses to fill the gaps.”

Galvagni said one option is a state regulation that allows hospital employees to work outside their scope practice, under supervision. Funding to help hospitals recruit and retain staff would also be helpful, she added.

Committee co-chair Sen. Ralph Alvarado (R-Winchester) said he’d like to see those suggestions in writing now because lawmakers are in the process of formulating plans to address these issues.

Alvarado also asked the hospital association to help with the logistics of setting up locations for monoclonal antibody treatment. He said the therapy is free, in large supply and highly effective in reducing the length of COVID-19 illness and likelihood of hospitalization. Galvagni said yes.

“We’re gonna have to have regional locations; somewhere where people can get that administered and hopefully keep them from being admitted to the hospital,” Alvarado said.

Alvarado, who is a physician, urged those watching the meeting to get a COVID-19 vaccine and to seek monoclonal antibody treatment as soon as possible once diagnosed with COVID-19 to reduce the risk of hospitalization.

Both the COVID-19 vaccine and monoclonal antibody treatments are free to everyone regardless if you have health insurance.

The next Interim Joint Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services meeting will be back in Frankfort on Sept. 22 at 1 p.m.