UK and UK HealthCare focusing relief efforts in eastern Kentucky

Published 8:28 am Friday, August 5, 2022


Kentucky is dealing with a second catastrophic weather event in just a matter of months. Back in December, areas of Western Kentucky were decimated by some of the strongest tornadoes to hit the state in recent memory. This time, Eastern Kentucky has been hit with devastation, with the damage and casualties from these historic floods spanning across multiple counties.

The pictures coming out of the impacted areas have overwhelmed the entire state with grief for their neighbors who will feel the effects of this tragedy for months and years to come.

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“President Capilouto says it often … we may be the University of Kentucky, but we are the university for Kentucky,” said UK Police Chief Joe Monroe.

University leaders know and understand that UK exists because of the people throughout the Bluegrass State. They also know that many of their own call the mountains of Eastern Kentucky home.

UK HealthCare’s Chief Nursing Officer Kimberly Blanton falls into that category. The Magoffin County native knows all too well the impacts of flooding in the region filled by mountains and valleys, but she also cannot believe the magnitude of the recent heavy rains. Helping organize UK’s relief efforts is personal for Blanton in many ways.

“This is why we get into health care, to help people,” said Blanton. The calling to help people coupled with the pride many feel in being Kentuckians is leading to a strong response that both Blanton and Chief Monroe say will continue in the weeks to come.

UK’s teams who live and work in Eastern Kentucky are all actively doing what they can to help.

“Our teams are working in the communities to help deliver food, water, personal hygiene and cleaning supplies. Kentucky Homeplace Community Health Workers and other employees are working in the shelters helping people access their immediate needs, medical supplies, medications, assisting with applications insurance certification as many have lost all their insurance cards,” said Fran Feltner, Ph.D., director of UK’s Center of Excellence in Rural Health, which is in the hard-hit city of Hazard. “The UK CERH maintenance and housekeeping crew members are helping to clean the UK June Buchanan Clinic to get it ready to open as soon as possible.”

UK HealthCare operates several clinics in the areas overwhelmed by flood waters, and the June Buchanan Clinic in Hindman took the biggest hit. Work is underway to get mobile clinics out to the communities — that includes transitioning a mobile dental clinic, operated by UK HealthCare in partnership with Ronald McDonald House Charities, to a mobile medical clinic. Feltner says UK CERH bus drivers are helping by driving the mobile units. UK HealthCare’s teams in Hazard and Hindman are eager to utilize those to help the sick and injured in the area.

The East Kentucky Project CARAT, which is hosted within UK CERH, is helping people who may have lost walkers, canes, wheelchairs, or other durable medical equipment in the flood. As part of this project, UK College of Health Sciences physical therapy students refurbish donated equipment to give back to community members in need.

Meanwhile, Monroe is helping coordinate efforts back in Lexington from UK by working with the state’s emergency operations center (EOC). As a campus community, leaders are hoping to help in an organized and focused way. Through coordination with the state EOC, UK is aiming to help build some of their resource requests through a two-pronged approach. The first being monetary support, and the second being through supplies.

“We are trying to identify those needs and put together a list of what people need,” said Monroe. “What happens too many times during these types of crises is people want to help, and they don’t know what to give. So they go out and buy a bunch of stuff, and then that becomes overwhelming for those on the ground at the impacted site. It happened in Mayfield after the tornadoes. We have to really look and make sure the right materials and supplies are getting to those that need it.”

Blanton echoes that mindset of having a focused effort.

“We must make sure we are coordinating with the right people,” she said. “We have to do our due diligence because I don’t want our team to give money or supplies and it not really go where they think it is going.”

As the team organizes a concentrated giving effort, UK HealthCare is busy fulfilling immediate medical needs in the hurting communities. UK HealthCare has already sent a pharmacy team to the region, who have gone to several counties to vaccinate people for tetanus and hepatitis A. Additionally, UK HealthCare sent a supply truck including in-demand medical items including IV fluids and tubing, CPAP machines, and other supplies.

Kentucky Children’s Hospital (KCH) is also working tirelessly to help where they can as part of the coordinated effort. KCH has already worked with Costco, a strong Children’s Miracle Network partner, to supply clothing and necessities that were requested.  Additionally, Lauren Johnson, who is on the Parent Partnership Council for KCH quickly gathered funds from her community to donate new diabetes testing machines and supplies.

“Many children and families are in need in the area, and KCH wanted to be part of helping them in a meaningful way,” said KCH Chief Medical Officer Lindsay Ragsdale, M.D.

The reality for many team members who work in the impacted region is that this is all happening not only to their workplace but also to their own homes. The UK HealthCare ambulatory leadership team has followed up with employees living in the affected areas and they are connecting them with appropriate resources to help them, as many of these employees have lost their homes.

“I have seen firsthand the devastation in our communities. I have heard the cries from those who have lost everything. The last few days have been hard and we agree that we are living on prayers and adrenaline one minute at a time,” said Feltner. “I have also seen people from other parts of Kentucky and other states coming in to wade the mud, use a shovel, and work many hours helping those affected.”

UK’s College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment also has team members and facilities in the impacted areas. UK’s Perry County Extension Office is currently hosting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and UK’s Letcher County Extension Office is hosting a Red Cross shelter.

UK’s efforts will continue to change and adapt in the coming days and weeks to effectively meet the needs of the people in Eastern Kentucky.

To support members of the UK community, donate to the Basic Needs and Persistence Fund for students or our Crisis Program Gift Fund for faculty and staff.

Monroe also encourages those wanting to give monetarily to visit the Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief Fund set up by Gov. Andy Beshear’s office.