Two Residents, Two Staff From Lyon County Nursing Home Have COVID-19 Saturday, Apr 4 2020 

At least four people associated with a western Kentucky nursing home have now tested positive for the COVID-19 disease.

The River’s Bend Retirement Community is in Lyon County. A 94-year-old resident tested positive on Tuesday. She’s now being treated in her granddaughter’s home in Tennessee, and her diagnosis spurred county officials to seek widespread testing. 

On Friday, the Lyon County Judge Executive said 50 people who live or work at the nursing home were tested after the initial positive case was announced. By Friday evening, a dozen test results had been returned — with a quarter of them positive.

Judge Executive Wade White confirmed that three more people tested positive at the facility — one resident and two staff members.

Submitted

Jean Massamore, left, tested positive for COVID-19.

The staff members who tested positive worked with the 94-year-old woman who first tested positive earlier in the week, White said. Both staffers are now under quarantine. The resident who tested positive Friday is still at the facility, White said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the state. Gov. Andy Beshear on Friday said the state’s positive case count was at least 831, and 37 people have died due to the virus. He said residents at six nursing homes across the state have tested positive.

In Lyon County, at least six people have tested positive, according to White. The first case was on March 17.

He’s now pushing to have everyone who lives or works at the facility tested for the virus. The first round of tests this week were done on staff and residents who live or work on the same wing where the first positive case originated. White said there is another wing and more staff that have yet to be tested. He said state officials were initially reluctant to provide tests, and most were provided by local hospitals.

In response to a question Friday about the number of tests provided to the River’s Bend Retirement Community, Beshear said his administration works with local health departments and tries to “provide what tests we have.”

“But the vast majority of tests that are out there right now are secured by the hospitals and healthcare providers in other places,” he said. “We are now a very small part of the testing that is going on in Kentucky.”

The River’s Bend Retirement Community is in the small town of Kuttawa, a scenic town on the shores of Lake Barkley. Federal records show the facility is rated above average, though a 2017 inspection found that the nursing home failed to “have a program that investigates, controls and keeps infection from spreading.” Records show the deficiency was corrected.

A person answering phones at River’s Bend hung up on a reporter.

Lynn Orange was making daily trips to the facility to visit her 85-year-old mother before Beshear ordered that visitations cease last month.

Now, she worries about the virus spreading throughout the facility and infecting the staff and residents. Her mother has not been tested yet, as far as she knows.

After Orange learned of the first positive case at the facility earlier this week, she started making phone calls — she wanted to know what was being done to mitigate the virus’s spread. She said the response she got was disappointing.

The nursing home staff told her they were following recommendations from the local health department. Orange said she called there, and was told they’d call her back, but she never heard anything. She called the governor’s COVID-19 hotline, and they directed her to the state’s Department of Public Health, who then directed her back to the local health department.

Eventually she spoke with an administrator with the state’s Office of Inspector General, who told Orange there wasn’t much that agency could do, Orange said. 

“Every agency just passed the buck,” said Orange, who works for the city of Eddyville in Lyon County.. “I felt like the alarm is raised, and all these people are going to come swooping in here and they are going to take the measures that need to be taken. But no, you’re left out on your own to survive or not.”

A spokesperson for Beshear did not immediately respond to a request for comment Saturday morning.

Orange thinks the local health department is “in over their head,” and state officials need to step up and help identify the scope of infection and assist with mitigation. She wants to see people in hazmat suits with nose swabs testing everyone in the facility, as soon as possible.

County health officials couldn’t be reached Saturday.

Though she’s been impressed with Beshear’s leadership during the pandemic, Orange thinks his administration’s response to the situation at River’s Bend Retirement Center is “a glaring crack.”

She knows many staff members at the facility, and said they are terrified about getting infected. The residents, she said, deserve to be able to live their life in peace and without the fear of dying alone in their room, suffocating from a virus that spread because authorities were too slow to act.

“This is an emergency,” she said. “Who is taking the lead? Who is driving this train that is heading off the end of the bridge?”

Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

Among Mayor’s State Of Emergency Powers: Amending Union Contracts Saturday, Apr 4 2020 

Some of Louisville’s public sector unions, and the workers they represent, are in wait-and-see mode after the city announced employees may be reassigned to help respond to the coronavirus pandemic.  

Mayor Greg Fischer signed an executive order on March 13, declaring a state of emergency. Under Kentucky state law, that grants him significant powers intended to help the city respond quickly to the pandemic. 

One of those powers is to amend or selectively enforce city contracts, including those with public sector unions. Louisville currently has 24 contracts with public unions, representing everyone from librarians to park workers to corrections officers to traffic guards. 

When Fischer extended the state of emergency on March 24, he laid out what that would mean for city employees: “Effective today, Louisville Metro agencies are hereby empowered to request or, as needed, require employees to work in other areas of their agencies or in other Louisville Metro agencies…while retaining their current rate of pay, benefits, and other rights according to their current Collective Bargaining Agreement and/or Louisville Metro policies.”

The order also increased the amount of time the city had to respond to union grievances. 

Metro government spokesperson Jean Porter said in an email that “the intent is to fill gaps as needed and use resources in line with the existing contract language.”

“It is not our intent to make any additional changes to the contract or place workers into roles outside the scope of their classification,” she wrote. “The contract language has not changed.”

Porter said some city employees have already been reassigned, mostly working with 311 and helping with meal distribution through the Department of Resilience and Community Services. 

Porter said it’s not an uncommon practice during states of emergency.

But to move employees around, the city may have to override aspects of otherwise sacrosanct union contracts. The city’s unions are preparing for what these changing requirements could mean for the workers they represent. Andrew Burcham, a lawyer and organizer with AFSCME, said he can’t remember a recent state of emergency where workers were reassigned in large numbers. 

Burcham works with Local 2629, which represents some parks, revenue, technology, zoo and corrections employees. He said he and leaders from other city unions were told about the mayor’s plans right before he announced them publicly. 

“It’s something we didn’t anticipate,” he said. “If there’s a flood or a tornado, things shut down differently. A pandemic just changes what the city needs from us.” 

AFSCME 3425, which represents library workers, declined to comment for the story. But in emails sent to union members, union leaders said it was “disturbing” to learn that aspects of union contracts could be waived amid the declaration of emergency.  

Other unions said they were not expecting to see their contracts impacted by the state of emergency declaration. 

“Anything is possible, but we fully expect them to honor the contract and we will do the same,” said Teamsters 783 President John Stovall, who represents EMS, public works employees and other workers. 

Morgain Patterson, director of municipal law for the Kentucky League of Cities, said cities have the right to temporarily amend these contracts amid an emergency. But she had not yet heard much discussion about governments doing so. 

Burcham said he is in touch with Metro Human Resources daily to sort out what this declaration means for the 1,000 workers he represents. He applauded Fischer for adopting the emergency paid sick leave policy, which grants 10 days paid time off for employees who develop coronavirus symptoms or are directed to self-quarantine. 

He said he believes Metro is working in good faith to protect the health of the city, and “our goal is never to make things harder.” 

But, he said, there’s a lot of fear and uncertainty as city employees continue to go to work — and await news of possible reassignment. 

“Our motivation is the health and safety of our workers,” he said, “and finding a way to make sure these people … have a safe way to provide for their families and not get sick.”

KyCIR spoke to more than 10 Metro employees represented by unions, almost all of whom didn’t want to be quoted or identified, about how this change is impacting them. Most were not aware before this declaration that Metro government had the right to amend their contracts during an emergency. 

Essential? Some Question

This declaration comes at a time when some city workers said they don’t feel Metro government has their backs. 

Several told KyCIR they have not received adequate communication from city officials about when or whether they might be redeployed to coronavirus-related jobs. So for now, most city employees are reporting to their normal jobs in-person every day, some doing work they believe is not essential amid the pandemic. 

At the city’s libraries, which closed to the public on March 14, employees are doing work they say is important — inventorying and providing upkeep to the library collections, program planning — but not particularly timely. The biggest public service they’re offering, they say, is answering phone calls, which could be done from home.

“Everyone is scared,” said a library employee, who asked not to be named to protect her job. “Once someone comes into work, and they’re a carrier, there’s no telling what’s going to happen to the rest of the employees. Being out when the governor has told us to be healthy at home — morale is pretty low around here.” 

While some library branches allow for adequate social distancing, others do not. She said keeping these buildings open and requiring people to come to work is a waste of the city’s limited resources — particularly cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer and protective equipment. A lot of employees take the TARC bus to work, and many are in a vulnerable population or live with people who are. 

She said they have been told that they cannot work from home, but have not been given a good reason as to why. 

“We would love to help the community. We would just like to do it safely, from home, with pay,” she said. “We could answer the unemployment line, we could be answering library questions. We could also be working on our own professional development.” 

Another library employee told KyCIR she is happy to come to work — it’s giving her a sense of normalcy — but she is very anxious about the prospect of being asked to transfer to another department.  

Others echoed that concern, saying they are happy to help out but do not want to be sent to a call center, or other location with new people, when all the guidance is to stay home.

“If I’m sent to another agency, that would just expand the number of people I’m interacting with,” said the library employee, who also asked not to be named to protect her job. “That’s the last resort, if the choice is between going to another agency or going to furlough and not getting paid.”

That’s the other, equally serious, fear among city employees — that if they push too hard about their work being non-essential right now, that they’ll be furloughed or laid off. 

Porter said in an email that there is plenty of work. 

“This is an evolving situation, but at this time, we are not furloughing or laying off,” she wrote. 

City employees say all of this has left them stuck between a rock and a hard place — but mostly, for now, just stuck. They’re going to work every day, waiting to see how this all shakes out. The unions that represent them are in the same position. 

Under the law, when the crisis has passed, any contract language changed during the state of emergency would be reinstated. 

“And then we go back to business as usual — or as usual as it will be by then,” said Burcham. “We’ll be there, helping Louisville to pick back up the pieces.” 

Rural Health Clinics Struggle To Treat Patients, Pay Bills During Coronavirus Friday, Apr 3 2020 

During normal times, the nurses at Family First Health Care in Adair County handle 6,000 visits a year for everything from preventative care to chronic treatment for diabetes and heart disease to farm injuries.

But these are not normal times. 

Many of the services rural health clinics like Family First provide have been put on hold. That helps with social distancing and preserves medical capacity for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients, but it also means fewer patients coming through the door and paying for health care. 

At a time when they are needed perhaps more than ever, clinics like Family First are worried about making ends meet.

Submitted

Staff at the Family First clinic

“It’s pretty scary for anybody, myself or my staff, to get sick,” said nurse practitioner Beth Partin, who runs the clinic with her daughter. “And then it’s scarier as a business owner as to what’s going to happen to my practice. And what’s going to happen to my patients?”

There are only four primary care options for the over 19,000 people living in Adair County: a small hospital, Family First Health Care in Columbia and two other small clinics. The first case of coronavirus in Adair County was confirmed at the T.J. Health Columbia hospital on March 31. Partin says her clinic is treating every person who walks in the door like a potential case.

“We’ve asked folks to try not to fill up the waiting room,” said Jill York, Executive Director at Kentucky Coalition of Nurse Practitioners and Nurse Midwives. “At the same time, they need to be able to keep the lights on —  and care for the folks who do truly need their services right now. It’s kind of hard to ask them to do both.”

Medically Underserved Regions

Even if the coronavirus never penetrates rural Kentucky with the caseloads seen in more urban areas, the financial strain of the outbreak threatens an already vulnerable rural health system.

Michael Topchik is the national leader for the Chartis Center for Rural Health, a research and consulting firm. Topchik says clinics work in tandem with hospitals to provide care in rural areas. 

Topchik describes hospitals as the hub of the rural healthcare system. They treat emergencies and provide specialty services such as surgeries.

“Clinics are the front line,” Topchik says. Their job is to keep people healthy and out of the hospital through routine checkups and regular treatment for chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease that are more common in rural areas.

The Chartis Center for Rural Health has produced research that shows how vulnerable rural hospitals are to the coronavirus. Much like clinics, rural hospitals rely on outpatient services for revenue, these are the same kinds of services that hospitals have been ordered to stop performing for the duration of the outbreak.

That, coupled with the fact that the average rural hospital only holds enough cash reserves to operate for 33 days according to Chartis Center research, could spell financial ruin for many facilities. Topchik estimates we could see 200 to 400 rural hospitals close nationwide without immediate relief. 

That would put more pressure on the 251 health clinics in Kentucky working closely with hospitals to keep rural communities healthy — and they are already in a similar financial bind.

Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) introduced legislation last week to provide financial relief for rural healthcare facilities in the form of one-time emergency grants. “Even before the outbreak, many of our rural hospitals and providers were on the brink of shuttering,” Bennet said in a press release. “Now they face an existential challenge.”

Topchik says that preserving the rural healthcare system during the outbreak is “a moral issue.” 

“Are we going to make sure we have access to health care in rural areas, or are we going to let that go?”

Clinic’s Patient Visits Upended

The coronavirus has already upended how clinics in Kentucky treat patients.

Donna Isfort has owned the Estill Medical Clinic for about 12 years. She and her fellow nurse practitioner, Liz Taheny, have had to rethink their entire practice. 

Isfort and Taheny will meet patients in the parking lot for prescreening, where they take temperatures and screen for coronavirus symptoms using an algorithm passed down from the Department of Public Health to determine who gets tested. They wear personal protective equipment all day, and are careful to ration supplies.

They screen each other for COVID-19 symptoms every day before work and keep a log of the staff’s temperatures. They change clothes at the clinic before leaving, careful not to take anything that could carry the virus into their homes.  

Both nurse practitioners worked at UK Chandler Hospital before the rural clinic. Taheny calls it “a different kind of stress”: fewer acute emergencies, perhaps, but rural clinics also have fewer resources and smaller staffs. Then, there’s the added stress of caring for neighbors and other people from the community where Isfort has lived her entire life. Estill County is home to just two clinics and a 25-bed critical access hospital.

Isfort is worried about the financial impacts of their patients staying home. On Friday, the clinic saw 20 patients when they’d normally treat upwards of 50. 

“I have 14 employees, and all of my employees have family. And their paycheck from here helps put food on the table and helps pay their bills,” Isfort said. The clinic has a few weeks of cushion, Isfort said. She says the clinic has stopped using part time staff and cut back on non-essential supplies to help stretch finances.

Isfort said they will start to run out of personal protective equipment around Easter if things continue at this pace. Their usual sources for personal protective equipment are either sold out or on back-order, but Isfort says the community has rallied around the clinic. The county health department has helped secure protective masks, patients have sewn masks and gowns and even delivered cake to the clinic parking lot.

They have so far sent only a handful of coronavirus tests off to private labs. The county doesn’t have many kits, Isfort said.

“So each one of those has been precious and we’ve tried to determine, if this is someone who actually meets the criteria, is this a necessary test?”

Partin in Adair County has sent out six tests as of April 1; all came back negative. She has waited as long as 5 days for results.

The wait for test results can be anxious. Partin’s is a small staff: just two nurse practitioners, a nursing assistant and two people working at the front office. If one of them is exposed and gets sick, they will have to shut down for at least two weeks.

That means patients with chronic conditions would have to find another healthcare provider in an area where options are already few. Partin said patients become like family, especially elderly patients accustomed to getting their healthcare from a familiar face. 

“When you’ve been in practice for a long time, and patients know you, you’re the person that they want to see when they get sick,” Partin said. “And sometimes they will not see anyone else when they get sick.”

And like healthcare providers everywhere, they don’t have enough personal protective equipment to truly feel safe. Partin bought 10 N95 masks on Amazon for $40 — much more than they would typically cost. A neighbor donated 20 masks they got from Sherwin Williams. Then last week the Adair County Public Health Department distributed masks throughout the county. Partin’s clinic received 80 masks. But it’s still not enough. 

“I don’t think we can get any help,” Partin said. “I think everybody is desperate.”

Contact Jared Bennett at jbennett@kycir.org.

After COVID-19 Positive, Lyon County Nursing Home To Test Residents And Staff Thursday, Apr 2 2020 

About 40 people who live or work at a western Kentucky nursing home will be tested for the COVID-19 disease after a woman who lived at the facility tested positive this week, according to county officials.

The River’s Bend Retirement Community is located in Lyon County. The 94-year-old woman is one of three people that have tested positive in the county.

Lyon County Judge Executive Wade White said state officials were initially reluctant to provide tests to check fellow residents and workers who interacted with the woman. White, a Republican in office since 2011, said he expected state officials to be more responsive, considering the heightened risk of the disease spreading in a nursing home.

“It’s just different when it’s a nursing home,” he said. 

The state will provide at least nine tests and about 30 are being provided by local hospitals, White said. 

“We didn’t just wait around after the state said they would just test one person,” he said.

“We’re wanting to test everyone and get this under control.”

A spokesperson for Gov. Andy Beshear did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday evening.

Staff at River’s Bend Retirement Community refused to comment and hung up the phone several times when a reporter called seeking information. Federal records show the facility is rated above average, though a 2017 inspection found that the nursing home failed to “have a program that investigates, controls and keeps infection from spreading.” Records show the deficiency was corrected.

White said several staff members that were in contact with the woman who tested positive are under self-isolation, and he feels confident the nursing home is taking necessary measures to help prevent the spread.

He expects all of the tests to be conducted by Thursday evening and delivered to the state testing lab shortly after by the Lyon County Sheriff. The aim is to test everyone who works and lives on the residential wing that the woman who tested positive lived.

‘We had to start all over’

The positive test was for Jean Massamore, according to Lee Anne Teague, her granddaughter. She began exhibiting symptoms on March 26, starting with a sore throat, she said. By the following Sunday she could hardly finish a sentence without falling short of breath.

Teague said her grandmother’s temperature spiked and she was transported by ambulance from the nursing home to the Marshall County Hospital. She was tested for an array of viruses, all of which came back negative, before she was tested for COVID-19.

The hospital discharged her, but the nursing home refused to allow her back, Teague said. So, Teague, who lives in Tennessee, said she got a hotel room in Paris, Tennessee, with handicap access and waited for the results. 

“I was crying my eyes out,” she said.

Teague said her grandmother had been vigilant about wiping down touch points with bleach wipes and maintaining her distance from other nursing home residents. She had bronchitis and recently beat a bout of pneumonia. 

On Tuesday, Teague said she got a call from a nursing home staffer who said her grandmother had tested negative. She was overcome with joy, and they celebrated with hugs, kisses and takeout from a local restaurant.

About five hours later, a health department official called — the test was actually positive. Teague suspects a nursing home staffer misread the results.

“Then we had to start all over, and had to think of what to do,” she said.

Now, Teague has moved her grandmother into her own home and is under self-imposed quarantine. She fears for her daughter and husband, who both were in close proximity to her grandmother after thinking she was free from the virus. She worries how she’ll maintain her two home healthcare businesses she runs if she falls sick herself.

And she wonders how the virus was able to get into the nursing home, since visitation ended weeks ago — and she’s worried about the other residents.

But for now, her focus is on her grandmother, who Teague said helped raise her as a child.

“She is declining and my heart is breaking,” she said. “I juggle caring for her, and keeping our family in the loop with the looming fear of me getting sick myself while she still needs me.”

Thursday evening, Teague said she had begun showing symptoms herself, and she is going to be tested on Friday.

 Contact Jacob Ryan at jryan@kycir.org.

Pop-up COVID-19 test sites run by known fraudsters in Louisville Thursday, Apr 2 2020 

The group has been seen selling cell-phones and DNA testing to low-income populations in the past.

        

U of L Hospital Interpreters Still Working In-Person, Despite Health Concerns Thursday, Apr 2 2020 

A few weeks ago, a medical interpreter at the University of Louisville Hospital says she was interpreting for a Spanish-speaking patient. As she translated the healthcare professional’s questions and the patient’s answers, it dawned on her. 

“She had clear respiratory symptoms, she could hardly stop coughing, she had traveled outside the country,” said the interpreter. 

She realized she was standing in close quarters with a possible coronavirus patient. She said she was completely unprotected.

Several staff interpreters told KyCIR that this experience is not unique. They say the University of Louisville Hospital is endangering them, healthcare providers and patients by not implementing appropriate protections amid the coronavirus outbreak. 

Four staff interpreters spoke to KyCIR on the condition of anonymity, saying they fear retaliation for speaking out about their concerns. 

They say they have been sent between units without appropriate protective gear, interacting with both potential coronavirus patients and highly immuno-compromised patients during the same shift. They have been told they cannot work remotely, either from home or from a call center at the hospital, according to emails reviewed by KyCIR. 

The Certification Commission for Healthcare Interpreters, one of two certifying bodies in the field, has recommended that all healthcare providers switch to remote interpreting for most interactions, something other area hospitals have already done. 

Baptist Health Louisville has stopped using in-person interpreters, according to a spokesperson, but said they would make exceptions if it is deemed essential to the care of the patient. Norton is using remote interpretation whenever possible; if an in-person interpreter is necessary, they have to follow the hospital’s new visitor rules, including going only to the patient’s room and leaving the hospital immediately after. 

Family Health Centers, a non-profit community health provider, has moved its staff interpreters to a call center where they can provide interpretation over the phone, a spokesperson said. 

In an email Tuesday, a spokesperson said U of L Hospital is using it’s third-party video interpretation service as “the first option, before in-person interpretation” for confirmed or suspected COVID-19 cases.  

For all other patients, “protocols have not changed.”

But interpreters are worried that they may be interacting with patients who are later determined to have coronavirus. 

After KyCIR’s inquiries to the hospital, the director of the language access program sent staff interpreters an email saying they could continue to work in-person, or they could take an unpaid leave of absence, and their work would be outsourced to a third-party vendor. 

Many of the staff are already taking unpaid leave as a preventative measure or self-quarantining due to concerns about coronavirus exposure, KyCIR was told. 

One of the interpreters told KyCIR they would work around the clock if they had proper protections.

“But it’s a matter of patient safety,” she said. “How do they not see that we could be endangering everyone?”

‘Super vectors’

U of L Hospital employs several Spanish interpreters and one Somali interpreter, according to interviews with staff members. They serve the whole hospital, often being called to more than 30 situations requiring interpretation in a shift. 

“I could be this minute in the emergency room, finish an interpretation and go to the ICU, fly over to labor and delivery, fly in to assist in the OR, then I’m going to the [neonatal intensive care unit], or the transplant unit,” the interpreter said. “We are the perfect carriers for the virus, and we’re going into rooms with people with compromised immune systems.” 

A U of L Hospital spokesperson declined an interview request, but said in a statement that interpreters, like all employees, “are expected to wear procedural/surgical face masks, at all times, while in these clinical care settings. While providing care to a confirmed or presumed COVID-19 patient, or other infectious disease, additional PPE (like N95 masks) may be required.”

The hospital told interpreters in an email Monday night that they will be provided with the same level of PPE that healthcare providers receive. 

The interpreters are concerned for their own health, but several said the greater concern is for the healthcare providers and the patients.

“If we meet with a patient who is positive, we could infect the whole hospital,” another interpreter told KyCIR. “More than the doctors and nurses who work in just [one unit], we could potentially be super vectors.”

They say they have asked to stop doing in-person interpretation in wards that house particularly immuno-compromised patients, like the transplant unit and the James Graham Brown Cancer Center, but U of L Hospital told them that is not an option at this time. 

Interpreters proposed other options

The interpreters interviewed by KyCIR said they have pushed the hospital to allow them to work remotely, either from home or from a centralized call center at the hospital. 

“In an ideal situation, face-to-face is better, of course,” said one of the interpreters. “But in the very real situation we find ourselves in, this doesn’t make any sense. Whatever benefit we are creating by being face-to-face is completely washed out by the risk we are also creating.” 

Other local healthcare providers have found ways to accommodate these requests. At the call center set up by Family Health Centers for its 10 staff interpreters, the healthcare provider calls an extension and it rings to whichever interpreter is available at that time, allowing them to offer services without moving around the facility. 

“Our interpreters know our patients, they know how we do business, and many of our patients come to us because we do have those interpreters,” said communications director Melissa Mather. “They’re part of our care team in a big way, so it was about finding a safe way for them to continue their work.” 

U of L Hospital already uses phone and video interpretation if an interpreter is not available, or no one on staff speaks the needed language. That service is contracted through a third-party vendor, and uses a national bank of remote interpreters. 

All of the staff interpreters have department-issued phones and they say the technology is available if the hospital implemented it to allow them to work remotely. 

“In-person interpretation cannot be done remotely,” a hospital spokesperson said. “In situations where a video remote call is recommended, we already have a provider for that service.”

In a March 21 email reviewed by KyCIR, when Jefferson County already had 25 confirmed cases, language services director Christopher Burchett told the staff the hospital “will NOT be offering any work from home options for language services. It will also NOT be an option to interpret over the phone.” 

Burchett said employees could choose between working face-to-face or taking vacation time, then unpaid leave. That was reiterated in the email sent Monday night. 

“We all have made a commitment by joining the healthcare field,” he wrote. “We will continue this mission and be there for our patients.” 

Another interpreter agreed their work is essential, but said their physical presence is not.  

“We may be doing the opposite of what we are supposed to do, which is to save lives.”

Potentially overloaded systems

If U of L Hospital begins to rely fully on its third-party remote interpretation system, the interpreters interviewed by KyCIR said they are concerned it may get overloaded as demand increases across the country. 

Several interpreters told KyCIR that they have raised this issue with hospital leadership and proposed different solutions, but have not seen any action. 

In an email to staff interpreters, the department director said that the hospital’s vendor has assured them they will be able to handle increased volume.  

A recent investigation from ProPublica found that hospitals in coronavirus hotspots across the U.S. are already struggling with long wait times for third-party interpretation services. 

The U of L interpreters say their concern is that a day may come when all the staff interpreters are quarantined due to coronavirus exposure, and overloaded phone and video interpretation services are rendered useless by delays. 

Usually, if there’s no better option available, the hospital relies on family members to translate, but coronavirus patients often have to be isolated to prevent the spread of disease. This will leave nurses and doctors with no options to communicate with these vulnerable populations. 

“Many of these people will be alone in the last moments of life,” one interpreter said, her voice rising. “Those patients will not be able to participate in decision making in their own medical care. They will be alone and unable to communicate for their final moments on earth.” 

Contact Eleanor Klibanoff at eklibanoff@kycir.org.

GE Appliance Park factory workers fear COVID-19 is spreading Wednesday, Apr 1 2020 

Factory workers we interviewed tell WHAS11 News they believe every building should be closed, because their lives are more important than appliances.

        

GE Appliance Park reopens Monday, Mar 30 2020 

Workers at GE's Appliance Park facility are back at work, but say they still don’t feel safe.

        

Amid An Already ‘Strained System,’ County Jails Release 3,200 Inmates Friday, Mar 27 2020 

Thousands of inmates held in county jails have been released since the Kentucky Supreme Court Chief Justice issued an order last week effectively closing the courts, according to data provided by the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy.

The order to close the courts came in response to the spreading COVID-19 disease. In response to the order, the state’s public advocate, Damon Preston, called for defendants held on cash bail be released. On Friday, Preston praised his department’s efforts to secure the release of more than 3,200 inmates from county jails — marking a 28 percent reduction in the state’s county jail population.

Most of these inmates were on pretrial detainment or serving sentences for misdemeanor crimes, according to Preston.

Nearly 1,400 of the released inmates were released without a formal motion, meaning their release was granted through an order from a judge or through negotiations with attorneys and prosecutors.

Preston, in a statement, thanked the judges and prosecutors “who are also concerned about the potential threat to incarcerated persons and who were willing to agree to release in many cases.”

Jeff Cooke, a spokesperson for the Jefferson County Commonwealth’s Attorney, said his office has agreed to the release of 177 inmates from Metro Corrections.

“We have agreed to the releases believing a Coronavirus outbreak in Metro Corrections would also pose a danger to the public and potentially add additional burden to our healthcare system,” he said. “We have not agreed to the release of any defendants facing charges involving violence or who were otherwise believed to pose a danger to the public.”

Preston said the state’s correctional facilities are ill-equipped to respond to an outbreak of COVID-19. Prisons and jails house more than 24,000 inmates, with more staff coming and going on a daily basis.

“Without a doubt, COVID-19 threatens amplified pressure to our already strained system,” he said.

Few inmates have been released from state prisons. The state prison inmate population dropped just 1 percent between March 12 and March 26, according to state data.

But Preston is hoping to change that.

On Thursday, he sent a letter to the state’s Justice and Public Safety Cabinet Secretary Mary Noble and the state’s Parole Board chair Lelia VanHoose, recommending steps that could be taken to reduce the prison population amid the spreading pandemic, such as the automatic release or immediate parole consideration of non-violent, low risk offenders and medically at-risk inmates.

 

So Far, Feds Have Sent 83,000 N95 Masks To Kentucky — But It’s Not Enough Friday, Mar 27 2020 

As Kentucky competes with other public health departments for personal protective equipment from the federal government, state officials have shared details about how much the state has gotten to date.

Kentucky Department of Public Health officials told KyCIR it has received distributions  from the cache of medical equipment maintained by the federal government, called the Strategic National Stockpile, totalling 83,488 N95 masks, 198,886 face and surgical masks and 37,872 face shields since the pandemic hit Kentucky. It’s unclear how close that comes to what they’ve asked for, but Gov. Andy Beshear has said the federal government has not fully granted Kentucky’s requests. 

The governor also said the lack of supplies is contributing to the delay in testing for the coronavirus and creating danger for healthcare workers.

New documents obtained by KyCIR through an open records request shed light on how much state officials have requested from the national stockpile. 

Kentucky has asked for at least two disbursements: the initial, unspecified allotment of supplies it got from the stockpile earlier this month and a second request for more. That request asks for 50,000 N95 masks, 100,000 COVID-19 collection kits and 100,000 test kits, among other supplies, by March 23.

“Our first SNS allocation has been distributed, but we expect our burn rate, even with [personal protective equipment] conservation strategies, to exhaust our supply soon,” the request reads. “We need more.”

Kentucky Department of Public Health

A representative of the governor’s office has not yet responded to a question about whether the second request has been fulfilled and to what extent. But at a press conference on March 24, the day after the Kentucky Department of Public Health said it would need the additional supplies, Beshear said Kentucky’s disbursement from the Strategic National Stockpile was “not nearly what we asked for.”

Congressman Andy Barr, a Republican representing Kentucky’s 6th District, issued a press release on March 16 about his office’s work to help coordinate a delivery from the Strategic National Stockpile. “I stand ready to help facilitate these and similar requests from those on the front lines of this pandemic in the days and weeks ahead,” Rep. Barr said in the release.

Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has also been involved in securing equipment for the stockpile. Paul introduced legislation on March 20 that would redirect $350 million towards the Strategic National Stockpile to purchase more equipment. Paul, a Republican from Bowling Green, announced he tested positive for the coronavirus on March 22.

The investigative journalism nonprofit ProPublica has reported that public health departments across the country are complaining that their requests to the national stockpile have gone unfulfilled. Officials in Oregon and Oklahoma told ProPublica only about 10% of their requests have been fulfilled and New Jersey has received less than 6% of its requests. Kentucky has yet to release the percentage of its requests that have been fulfilled.

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