Jobe Publishing, Inc.
In a 7-1 vote last week, Barren County Fiscal Court voted to earmark $1,000,000.00 to the healthcare sector in Barren County for the purpose of retaining employees with an additional $500,000.00 to healthcare education.
As with many areas across the nation, staffing shortages are taking a toll on businesses in Barren County and our healthcare sectors are not exempt from feeling the pandemic-related complexities.
Representatives from three local sectors of healthcare provided details to magistrates in an attempt to petition a portion of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds the county received.
The representatives cited retention of employees being the top concern and the Administrator of NHC Healthcare in Glasgow, Denise Billingsley, said the crisis has the potential to become a situation where healthcare staff has to ration care for patients.
T.J. Regional Health CEO Neil Thornbury spoke on the employee turnover rate the local hospital has witnessed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we have seen over the last 22 months is, for us in the hospital, two major surges,” Thornbury said regarding the staff shortage. He said one occurred last fall, and another in Aug. and Sept. of this year and mostly attributed it to the stress healthcare workers have endured during the worldwide pandemic as well as some leaving to become travel nurses.
Thornbury shared his concern with magistrates regarding the financial impact T.J. Regional Health is enduring with so many healthcare workers walking away from their careers.
Currently, T.J. Regional Health has 10 to 12 contract nurses, or travel nurses, costing the healthcare facility approximately $250,000.00 every two weeks. Thornbury said this is three to four times more than a regular employee at T.J. would earn. Additionally, due to the staffing problem, overtime costs are also a significant number.
He said this “is not sustainable for any health system” and the next three to five months are uncertain as to what the future may hold for the hospital.
Magistrate Trent Riddle said the current situation with the workforce shortages is a long-term matter.
“It’s a national wide issue and there’s not a quick cure for it,” Riddle said, “I don’t know that $500 or $1,000 is going to solve it—maybe it helps ease the burden for a little bit.”
Riddle also said the workforce issue will take a lot of strategic planning and training to navigate in order to fix the growing shortages in our workforce.
Estimates of 1,800 employees within the county’s healthcare systems were mentioned in the meeting but that number is expected to increase once the final numbers are calculated.
The sole dissenter, Magistrate Carl Dickerson, asked if all sectors of healthcare were included or only the facilities being represented to the court.
Dickerson asked, “Are we including every healthcare provider in the county, or we’re just picking and choosing?”
Judge/Executive Micheal Hale said the focus would be on individuals who live and work in Barren County within the healthcare sector.
Dickerson said as a magistrate, his role was to consider all of the citizens in the county, not just employees from T.J. and NHC. “We have to look at the whole group,” he said.
Dickerson suggested opening the matter up with an announcement to the public allowing those in need to submit written requests for the court to review and consider. He did, though, acknowledge that the employees being represented in court were deserving of the money.
“Don’t we owe it to our community to look at everything before we make a decision?” Dickerson added.
However, Dickerson shared full support and favor for investing monies to post-secondary healthcare education and said he was ready to vote yes to that.
In addition to Thornbury and Billingsley, LaDonna Rogers was also present to discuss the matter. Rogers is the Chief of Human Resources at T.J. Regional Health.
Frontline healthcare workers also spoke on the unsettling experiences they’ve taken part in with COVID-19 patients, including testimony from John Stephens, Registered Nurse, attesting to difficulty endured as coronavirus patients took their last breath.
Stephens said the image of one family was etched in his memory who stood in the rain watching their loved one pass away through the window as he comforted the dying patient.
Hale made a motion that his recommendation was to put the $1M into the community’s healthcare sector and half a million in the education to build up Barren County’s healthcare sector.
He also added in his motion to reach out to the City of Glasgow to help contribute to the effort from the city’s own federal ARPA funds.
Those who voted in favor were Magistrates Riddle, Mark Bowman, Tim Coomer, Jeff Botts, Billy Houchens, Kenneth Sartin, and Judge Hale.
Additional details are expected to be addressed at a later time. Currently, employees for private practices, Caverna’s Medical Center, and Graves Gilbert Clinic were not included in the 1,800 estimate provided.
Riddle made another motion to establish a committee to specifically deal with the ARPA-related funds to remove the current burden from the Administrative/Budget Committee.
Botts, Chair of the Administrative/Budget Committee, seconded the motion and it passed unanimously. The committee will be made up of three volunteering magistrates, Coomer, Riddle, and Dickerson, and Krista Steenbergen, contracted employees hired by the county to navigate the ARPA federal guidelines.