Nearly $312 million is being spent on staff retention and increased bed capacity at hospitals.
Hospitals have placed a record number of COVID-19 patients on ventilators 16 times this year. Fifteen of those records were set in August. As of this afternoon, an all-time high of 388 patients were on ventilators.
The Arkansas Department of Health reported 2,626 new cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the total to 66,439 cases for the month. That’s the second highest monthly count this year, falling just behind the 70,110 cases recorded in January.
“This is a significant concern and it reflects the seriousness of the Delta variant and the challenges that our hospital personnel face,” Gov. Asa Hutchinson said during his weekly press briefing this afternoon.
The more transmissible Delta variant now accounts for 99.3 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the state. Arkansans 18 years of age and younger make up about 30 percent of the state’s 22,422 active cases.
To address the need for increased hospital capacity as cases continue to surge, nearly $312 million in funding from the American Federal Rescue Plan Act of 2021 is being spent on staff retention and the addition of staffed beds at medical facilities across the state.
Baptist Health, for example, completed the first phase of its expansion Aug. 25 with the creation of 33 new ICU beds and 124 medical surgical beds. The ICU beds filled up within 12 to 24 hours of opening. The Baptist Health Medical Center in North Little Rock opened 12 more COVID ICU beds today and nine of them were still available for use by midday.
“The pressure on ICU continues to be really severe and this will be very helpful,” Baptist Health president and CEO Troy Wells said.
Additionally, Baptist Health is working on adding eight more ICU beds to its Fort Smith hospital and eight ICU beds to its Conway facility. Officials are also looking at increasing capacity in the neonatal ICU, which has been out of beds on certain days.
“We’ve had many preterm babies delivered because unvaccinated mothers deliver their baby early and the baby now needs a neonatal intensive care bed where otherwise they would have gone full term,” Wells said.
Another 64 ICU beds are expected to come online statewide in September as health officials prepare for a continued surge in cases.
“We’re trying to look ahead and stay ahead of the curve by having space and we’ve been successful thus far, but we need everybody’s help to get vaccinated,” Hutchinson said. “We’re doing all we can in terms of having space available with the help of our hospitals.”
The number of COVID-19 cases among children has increased significantly over the last two weeks, Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said. With more cases, there are going to be more individuals who develop more severe disease who will tax the state’s critical care structure for children, he said.
“We have a single children’s hospital in this state — it’s one of the best children’s hospitals in the region — and if we exhaust the critical care beds in that group, we will be in a serious situation,” Romero said.
It’s important to protect children by vaccinating those who are eligible and encouraging masking at all times, he said.
More information about vaccinations in Arkansas is available on the Department of Health’s website.