UAMS Requests Additional Funding, National Guard Assistance for COVID-19 Patients

If approved, an additional $4.7 million will be used to expand hospital bed capacity.

Arkansas National Guardsmen assist with the UAMS drive-thru COVID-19 testing site
The Arkansas National Guard will extend its stay at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to help with COVID-19 testing. Photo courtesy of the Arkansas National Guard.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is seeking additional assistance in caring for a continuing influx of COVID-19 patients. Twelve members of the Arkansas National Guard were assigned to UAMS’ drive-thru testing site in Little Rock from Jan. 3 through Feb. 4, but this morning, officials announced they will continue to help through Feb. 11 after UAMS requested an extension due to sustained COVID-19 testing and screening rates. 

On Monday, the American Rescue Plan Act Steering Committee approved more than $4.7 million for UAMS to open an additional 20 medical beds and seven Intensive Care Unit beds for COVID patients. UAMS is awaiting final approval of the funding from Arkansas lawmakers.

The request for additional federal funding came on the same day the Arkansas Department of Health reported a record 184 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in a 24-hour period, bringing the state’s total hospitalizations to an all-time high of 1,817. That number dropped by 32 today, which Gov. Asa Hutchinson noted during his weekly press conference is still very high and putting a strain on the state’s hospitals.

“Even though we hope that hospitalizations will decline, the number is still very high and it’s really causing a backlog and a challenge for our ambulance drivers, those that are bringing patients to the emergency rooms,” Hutchinson said. “We’re challenged there and we need to have that relief.”

One potential sign of relief is that new COVID-19 cases are declining among all age groups except for Arkansans 65 and older. Their case count has plateaued. Last week, only the 19 to 24 year-old age group showed signs of a decline in new cases.

Those numbers are likely to continue decreasing, but there are Arkansans who are already infected that will require hospitalization and that’s why funding is needed for additional hospital beds, Health Secretary Dr. José Romero said. Romero is particularly concerned for the state’s children, a group that has already broken the record for hospitalizations during this surge.

“We’re going to have more numbers, more children being infected and that number will exceed where we are today so please get your vaccinations,” he said. “Encourage your friends and neighbors to do so and of course, get the vaccinations for your children. It’s a safe and effective vaccine. It is the way to protect them.”

More information about COVID-19 vaccines are available on the Arkansas Department of Health’s website. You can also find a map of where to get free at-home testing kits here.

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is an Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts for NPR affiliates as well as print and digital publications since 2007.