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Kentucky hospital feels strain of staff shortage amid COVID surge: "You can't ask nurses to take care of any more people"

Kentucky hospitals overrun with COVID cases
Kentucky hospitals overrun with COVID cases 02:34

For Dr. Brad Baker, the fight against coronavirus is personal. He was born at St. Claire Regional Medical Center in Morehead, Kentucky, and came back for his residency. Right now, the virus is ravaging his home.

"The frustration comes from that we've been shouting from the rooftops for a long time now how bad this is and what this can do. And to watch it, despite your warnings and your pleadings, to just come through and take life like it does, that's hard," Baker told CBS News' Nancy Chen.

St. Claire is the largest rural hospital in northeast Kentucky and it's the only hospital in a county of roughly 24,000 people. Baker said he has open beds but not enough nurses to staff them.

"You can't ask nurses to take care of any more people than they're already taking care of," said Baker.

Nurses like Chyann Hanson are committed to finding a way to care for more people, despite worrying about getting their children sick. 

"[My daughter] wants to run straight to me when I walk through the door, and she can't," Hanson said. "Some days it makes me feel like a bad mom because I am supposed to be there for my daughter but I am a nurse and my patients need me."

That conviction does not end with St. Claire's staff—roughly a dozen national guard troops are assisting the hospital.

"I personally know at least five people with COVID that's in this hospital right now. And three of them are on ventilators and its, just hard to swallow. So anything I can do,I'm going to do," Sgt. Darrin Cushard of the Kentucky National Guard said. 

Across Kentucky, hospitals fill up with unvaccinated patients and some, like 29-year-old Samantha Wendell, never make it home.

Her cousin, Maria Hayes, said Wendell thought getting vaccinated might impact her fertility, even though there is no scientific evidence that it does.

"Misinformation killed my cousin," Hayes said. 

Wendell was supposed to get married on August 21 — instead, she died on September 10 after weeks in the hospital.

"It was absolutely traumatizing to have to say goodbye to someone you love via the phone. Samantha was a person, we loved her. She isn't just another number. She was a person that was well-loved," Hayes said.

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