LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 21, 2021) — Kentucky National Guard members helped load and unload supplies Monday at a medical storage warehouse on College Way, the same street behind Kroger Field where cars often can be found lined up for COVID-19 drive-thru testing. Both are scenes that would have been unheard of and unimaginable a little more than 18 months ago.
Five members of the National Guard began working at the UK HealthCare yesterday and as with other hospitals across the state, are providing nonclinical logistical support to hospital staff at the University of Kentucky. Earlier in September, Gov. Andy Beshear deployed more than 400 members of the Kentucky National Guard to assist at hospitals across the Commonwealth, as they struggle with a surge of COVID-19 patients, staffing shortages and waning resources.
At UK HealthCare, 144 patients were being treated for COVID-19 on Monday morning with 53 of them in the intensive care unit and 37 of them on ventilators, said Colleen Swartz, D.N.P., UK HealthCare vice president for operations. The surge of COVID-19 of patients is in addition to the heavy load of trauma patients, pediatric patients — COVID and non-COVID — and other complex medical patients being treated at the hospital.
“We are glad to be here to help Kentuckians in this time of need,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Watkins of Lexington, who is the noncommissioned officer in charge of the UK HealthCare and Baptist Health Lexington deployment. “I never thought in my life I would be working in a hospital, but there’s a need for us to be here, and we are proud to do what we can to help.”
For the five National Guard members spending their first day at the medical storage facility, their assistance was already being felt, said Christopher Petter, UK HealthCare enterprise director of logistics. “We reached out to the National Guard for help because of the sheer volume of supplies that are being needed to be received here and then shipped to the hospital or clinic to help patients.”
Prior to the pandemic, UK HealthCare employees would use about 1,000 N95 masks per day. Currently, they are needing close to 14,000 per day, Petter said. Other types of personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as specific supplies used to treat COVID-19 patients, are also in high demand.
“In my 17 years working here, I really haven’t seen anything like it,” he said.
The warehouse operates 24 hours a day and seven days a week to provide the needed medical supplies for patients at UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital, UK Good Samaritan Hospital and Kentucky Children’s Hospital, as well as all of the ambulatory clinics.
“We appreciate the help from the National Guard in assisting in this role and everything that is being done to support our employees who have been working so hard especially these past 18 months,” Swartz said.
The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers." We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.