Baxter Regional Medical Center prepares for coronavirus cases

MOUNTAIN HOME, Ark. -- Even though a coronavirus test hasn't come back positive in Baxter County yet, experts at Baxter Regional Medical Center said that could be for a number of reasons.

"I think the testing capacity and limitations I think sometimes skews that number," said Stephanie Free, an infection preventionist at BRMC.

Baxter Regional Medical Center has a limited number of coronavirus tests, so they have to use them selectively. So far, 16 people have been tested, and nine have come back negative. The other seven haven't come back from private labs.

"It's probably here," Free said.

Hospital leaders said they think another big reason Baxter County has not come back with a positive yet is because people are social distancing.

"We're just very pleased that many of them are compliant with the stay-at-home issue," said Barney Larry, the vice president of business development at BRMC.

But if you do have coronavirus symptoms, the hospital has a hotline you can call. It's (870) 508-7001.

"Anyone that's mildly ill is recommended to just go home, and the nurse practitioner or the nurse will provide education to the patient at that time," Free said. "If they feel like they need to see a physician, they will transfer them to their primary care provider. Or if they need urgent care, then we will recommend that they come to the emergency room, call before they come. Or we will send out an ambulance."

BRMC also provides telehealth where patients can talk to a doctor through video on their phone or computer.

"That's a great option. In addition to that though, we've also through our clinics been able to offer telehealth visits," said Ron Peterson, the CEO and president of BRMC.

Baxter Regional Medical Center knows it's going to be a rollercoaster during this time period.

"It's very difficult to make sure we are here as a safety net for our community, which we want to be, and yet see our volume drop the way that it has dropped and then be ready for a surge a few weeks later," Peterson said.

He said it's especially tough for rural hospitals.

"If your volume drops or your revenue drops, but your expenses are actually increasing because of the extra things you are doing to be prepared for this, it makes it extremely difficult on all rural hospitals," Peterson said.

Even though it's going to be a rough ride ahead, Baxter Regional said it's ready.

"We have a great staff really putting their focus on this, and we're going to be prepared when we have a case," Larry said.

Baxter Regional is also limiting visitors to one per patient, but they have to be screened before they come in.