RUSSELL SPRINGS, Ky. — Most hospitals are seeing a rush of COVID-19 patients, and Russell County Hospital is no different.
CEO Patrick Branco says they’re doing OK with capacity right now.
“I don’t panic. I don’t run away,” he said. “And I believe that there are always ways to manage what we’re dealing with.”
Branco said the hospital can handle 14 COVID patients and on Friday, they have nine, although that includes a patient they took in from Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital in Somerset, about a half-hour away.
Branco isn’t requiring his staff to get vaccinated though, a move several other hospitals in Kentucky have made.
Even though he wants them to get vaccinated he says a mandate wouldn’t go over well.
“My choice is what do I do with them if they have a religious, personal or medical reason not to get the vaccine? Do I punish them? No,” Branco said. “I’ve placed a too high value on them so I’ll find a way in which we can maintain the safety of our patients and our co-workers.”
Branco said “50 to 60%” of his staff are vaccinated, and some are waiting for full FDA approval.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) came to speak with hospital officials Friday, sharing concerns about vaccine requirements.
“I was walking down the hallway the other day and a reporter came up to me and said somebody who got the disease last year wasn’t vaccinated and got sick, and I said well that’s terrible, and they said have you changed your opinion on vaccines, and I said no,” Paul told Branco. “I’m still as pro-vaccine as I’ve always been, but I’m also pro-freedom, and I think you can have both.”
Paul hasn’t gotten vaccinated because he got COVID-19 last year, even though the CDC recommends people who caught the virus still get vaccinated because it provides “a strong boost in protection” against reinfection, according to the CDC website.
Russell County Hospital administrators have also been trying to get more space or a new hospital for a couple decades, and they got the chance to ask Paul about what’s available at the federal level.
“I may not always vote for all the money because we don’t have any, but once it’s out there, we should try to get what Kentucky can get,” he said. “If it’s a program that’s out there, we’ll try to advocate for you.”
Paul declined to answer questions from Spectrum News 1 following the roundtable discussion.
Branco says the lack of action on an expansion has weighed on the staff.
“They’re frustrated because nothing has been done,” he said.
But he says the hospital should have enough room to deal with COVID patients, and he’s optimistic the recent surge in cases won’t push them to make drastic decisions.