State of Arkansas assisting hospitals as COVID-19 hospitalizations climb

Published: Jan. 25, 2022 at 5:03 PM CST
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HARRISON, Ark. (KY3) - Arkansas reported its biggest one-day jump in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 this week.

A state panel gave initial approval to set aside more funds for hospital beds to deal with a surge in cases because of the Omicron variant. The number of patients in the state hospitalized with COVID-19 increased Monday by 184 to 1,817. That is the highest number since the pandemic began in 2020.

During a weekly briefing Tuesday, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the number of hospitalizations in the state fell by 32 in the last 24 hours at 1,785.

“Hospitalizations are significantly higher and with that increase in hospitalizations greater than 80% of those hospitalizations are of the unvaccinated,” said Baxter Regional Medical center chief operations officer David Fox.

As COVID-19 patients fill ICU beds, the state is providing funding to increase capacities where needed. Most hospitals in north Arkansas say capacity issues aren’t the main concern right now.

”The concern at this point is the staff availability,” said North Arkansas Regional interim CEO and President Sammie Cribbs. “Hospitals across the region have bed availability but we need the staff to care for those acutely ill patients. So it’s specialized staff and we’re dealing with workforce shortage as well due to illness and quarantine.“

Fox says the staffing shortage far exceeds nurses, like at Baxter Regional Medical Center, where the National Guard is in place at least through next week.

”We need all the assistance that we can to get, to get our hands around this insurgence of this omicron variant,” said Fox. “It is rampant at this time and hospitalizations are significantly higher than what we’ve seen, but we’ve learned to prepare for anything.”

With both hospitals seeing anywhere from 5-10% of staff out at a time, funding doesn’t easily fix that problem.

”Our teams are working extremely hard to provide resources for the patients and the families and the coworkers,” said Cribbs. “I just think it’s important at this point to do everything we can to keep everybody safe and healthy.“

”Fearful is not the word I would use, I would say we’re living it,” Fox explained. “We’re living through a great deal of high stress and burnout is a daily concern of ours not just for nurses but all health care staff.”

Both Baxter and North Arkansas Regional staff say roughly 80% of hospitalizations are unvaccinated patients. While numbers continue to climb, the Arkansas Department of Health is reporting dismal vaccination numbers. The state reported 1,300 new doses given Monday. The state’s vaccination rate remains steady at 52.39%.

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