Kentucky Politics

Kentucky hospitals are asking for help retaining health care workers and boosting resources as Gov. Andy Beshear considers calling a special legislative session for lawmakers to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

The delta variant of the virus is still surging across Kentucky, with nearly two-thirds of hospitals reporting critical staffing shortages on Thursday.

The state had 4,941 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday—the third highest total reported during the pandemic—and a positivity rate of 13.35%.

Nancy Galvagni, president of Kentucky Hospital Association, told lawmakers on Thursday that 54% of hospitals in the state have no ICU beds available.

“The number of COVID hospitalizations is now higher than what we saw at the previous peak last November and December, and I hate to say but with each passing day, the situation is getting worse,” Galvagni said.

The legislature’s interim Committee on Health, Welfare and Family Services heard from healthcare professionals on Thursday ahead of the possible special session, which could start as soon as next Tuesday.

Beshear is considering calling the session after the Kentucky Supreme Court upheld new laws limiting his emergency powers during the pandemic last month.

Because one of those new laws restricts his emergency orders to 30 days unless renewed by the Republican-led legislature, he is contemplating summoning lawmakers for the special session to weigh in on the state’s coronavirus policies.

Republican leaders of the legislature say they are willing to preserve some of the state’s coronavirus response, including the Beshear’s March 2020 emergency declaration that eases some regulations during the pandemic and allows the state to get federal assistance.

Sen. Ralph Alvarado, a Republican from Winchester, said lawmakers are in favor of funding to attract and retain health care workers, get more rapid testing for hospitals and set up regional clinics for Regeneron, a coronavirus treatment.

“We’d like to see that done everywhere in the state. There’s areas in urban and rural Kentucky that are doing a good job, but we’ve got to do it everywhere and pool our resources together,” Alvarado said.

Kentucky governors typically try to come to a consensus with lawmakers before calling special legislative sessions. The task is especially difficult now, with a Democratic governor and Republican-led legislature.

Republican lawmakers have criticized Beshear’s handling of the pandemic since the beginning, especially restrictions on businesses and crowds early on in the pandemic and mask mandates.

But since last month’s court ruling effectively put the legislature in the driver’s seat of the state’s pandemic response, Republican leaders of the legislature have shown they might be willing to work with the governor to try to deal with the virus.

Rep. Kim Moser, a Republican from Taylor Mill and chair of the House Health and Welfare Committee, said the hearing on Thursday was a “crucial conversation” about how to move forward.

“Rest assured we are looking very carefully at all the regulations we need to keep in place to really support our health care workers, our hospitals, our long-term care facilities,” Moser said. 

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.