A Covid-19 surge in Kentucky has led to so many patients at St. Claire Regional Medical Center that the workers are unsure how they’ll handle the growing numbers when a medical team sent by the federal government leaves Friday.
The Morehead hospital, about 65 miles east of Lexington, is one of the hardest-hit due to the influx of Covid-19 patients. It’s the largest health care facility serving 11 counties in rural northeastern Kentucky and – as of last week – was at 130% above capacity, according to St. Claire Health Care CEO Donald Lloyd.
“The only reason we are holding this lifeboat together is I have a federal disaster medical assistance team here, 14 people who have just been heroes to us. And, unfortunately, their deployment is over on Friday,” Dr. William Melah, the chief medical officer for St. Claire Health Care, told CNN’s Kate Bolduan on Monday. “I’m going to lose 14 health care professionals, and I literally have no idea what we’re going to do on Friday.”
Gov. Andy Beshear said during a Covid-19 briefing Monday that hospitals in Kentucky are “struggling more today than at any other point during the pandemic.” Because of this, Beshear said about 400 National Guard troops will be deployed across 25 hospitals in the state.
“This is, I think, the largest deployment for a health care crisis in our commonwealth’s history,” Beshear said. “Every hospital that they go to not only talk about how it’s a morale boost, but it truly helps in the operation and it allows them to provide more care to more patients.”
An “army of nursing students” is also being sent all over the state, the governor said.
At St. Claire, there are currently five EMS teams and one medical team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Beshear said.
“We will continue look for any other way we can help,” Beshear said.
While the hospital is holding on by a thread, Melah assured the community St. Claire would not turn anyone away.
“We’re gonna have to… (I) don’t know what we’re going to do,” he said. “I really don’t feel like answering that question right now because it is so disturbing.”
Last week, the situation at St. Claire was so bad that some non-Covid patients were waiting 24 hours for care or until someone got better or died, Melah said.
As of Monday afternoon, Kentucky had more than 620,000 Covid-19 cases and more than 8,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Roughly 50% of the state’s population is vaccinated.
Melah also emphasized that medical workers are not angry at patients, but rather those who have manipulated them into thinking the vaccines aren’t safe or that they’re more dangerous than being infected with Covid-19.
“They hear that from experts, they hear from politicians and from social media. And we’re not here to be angry with them,” Melah said. “There’s actually one enemy and only one thing to be angry about and that is coronavirus. That’s the real enemy. And we’re at war with coronavirus.”
CNN’s Kristen Holmes, Miguel Marquez and Bonney Kapp contributed to this report.