When Kimberly Blanton (88) was a senior at Magoffin County High School she visited the hospital to see a close friend who had become very ill.

“What I witnessed there was so amazing, the way they were able to take care of her,” said Blanton recently. “And I thought, ‘I want to dedicate my life to taking care of people.’ And that’s what I did.”

“With this pandemic, I’ve been full force,’ Blanton said, adding that when a patient tests positive, “It’s either I or our manager, Rachel (Howard), who calls those folks back. There’s some major work that goes into seeing when were they last at their job? Have they traveled? What kind of symptoms do they have? Trying to get some of what we call epidemiology front end, just to see how maybe they contracted the virus.”

What she has found, she said, is that, yes, the patients are scared, but not just for themselves. They are scared of transmitting the virus to other people. Those not hospitalized, are worried most about infecting family members at home.

“For instance, one was like, ‘I have to go to the kitchen,’” Blanton said. “And I’m like, ‘Well, go to the kitchen at a different time than when your son goes to the kitchen.’ Helping them walk through that, and put it into use at home.”

Then there are the patients who do not have family at home. Blanton said she has collaborated with the infectious disease department, led by Dr. Alice Thornton, whose group “has been amazing in helping me do this. They would call the patient and do some tele-health and check on them so they don’t feel so alone. It’s a scary virus, but even more scary when you have no family with you.”

As a director, Blanton’s other responsibility is to plan. And for this particular pandemic, the planning started early. How early? Having been through both the H1N1 pandemic and Ebola, for which UK was designated an assessment hospital, the university felt like it had a head start on preparations.

““I’d been working on some portion of the COVID with the university and the president’s group since early January when we started bringing students back,” Blanton said.

Having experienced a supply drain with Ebola, Blanton acted early on the allocation of supplies. She worked with material managers to provide personnel what they needed, but also with clinics who were not seeing patients in order to secure materials for a stockpile to deal with an influx of patients.

“That was stressful because I think the staff kind of felt like they no longer had control of that supply because we took it over,” she said. “But now I think they’re like, ‘I’m so glad you did.’”

As of late April, the staff feels like it has what it needs. Not that there haven’t been other stressful situations, from the ever-changing CDC guidelines — “(Every day) I’d have to tell them something new and it looked like we were schizophrenic at points” — to mixing a hectic work life with quarantine life at home.

Robbie and Kim Blanton have a daughter, Audriana, who is now a senior in high school and “not getting to experience the senior life at all.” Son Bryan is a social worker in Winchester. “He’s calling me and saying, ‘Mom, what should I do?’”

Yet even in a stressful time, it’s also a gratifying time.

“This is like a village that has come together in an unprecedented, crazy time,” Blanton said. “My heart is overjoyed by the amount of people that have reached out, even if it’s a text just to say, ‘We’re proud of you and the university.’ That means the world to people.”

And when that village sees a recovered patient leave the hospital?

“It gives you chill bumps,” said Blanton. “It really does.”