Nursing homes in west Kentucky have been particularly hit hard by the coronavirus. Kentucky Department for Public Health officials say there are currently 20 medical and nursing student volunteers deployed across the state, particularly west Kentucky, in part to help staff these facilities.
Heather Walls is the state coordinator for the Medical Reserve Corps, a nationwide network of medical and public health professionals to strengthen emergency responses. For the past four weeks at the request of department commissioner Steven Stack, Walls has been coordinating the effort to send medical and student volunteers to impacted nursing homes. Walls said she initially received about 800 completed registration forms from volunteers interested.
“It really came to Dr. Stack’s idea to reach out to these medical schools for people to volunteer for COVID,” Walls said. “We’ve had a lot of praise for these students...they’re going in when everyone else is running out.”
These volunteers have come from institutions including Northern Kentucky University, the University of Kentucky, Campbellsville University, and the University of Pikeville Kentucky Osteopathic College of Medicine. Many are originally from west Kentucky. Officials have sent volunteers to nursing homes including River’s Bend Retirement Community in Lyon County, and to Hopkins County.
Connie White, Deputy Commissioner for Clinical Affairs, said these volunteers are needed to help replace and replenish nursing home staffing who are emotionally and physically exhausted from treating residents with coronavirus. Some nursing homes have low staffing because some are sick with the coronavirus.
“If you try to do that with fewer people because of folks that are missing because of illness, that can make a tremendous impact on how you care for these patients,” White said. “This is a pandemic like they’ll never see before. They have a lot to offer. They’re young, so we’re not as concerned about their long-term health.”
White said the state would usually rely on retired nurses and medical professionals in emergency situations, but the advanced age of these professionals, increasing the susceptibility to the virus, made using younger students the safer option.
White also said they’re trying to balance the student’s ongoing academic obligations with the volunteer work at these facilities. Some volunteers are also being sent to take care of people with coronavirus who are not sick enough to be hospitalized, housed at Barkley Lake State Resort Park and Lake Cumberland State Resort Park.
“If you are well enough to be discharged from a hospital, you can do your activities of daily living but you cannot go home...you’re in a home where there’s one bathroom and 10 people, whatever the reason might be,” White said. “There will be medical staff that check on you daily, does a temperature check, make sure you have your meds. You’ll be fed three meals a day, but you’ll stay in your lodge room until your self-isolation, quarantine time is over.”
Volunteers are sent out on seven-day deployments as officials try to balance the ongoing academic obligations these students have with the volunteer work. White said some volunteers are being housed at cabins at Barkley Lake Resort Park, while others are staying at local hotels.