Hospital prepares for COVID-19 surge as Governor voices concern over capacity

FORT SMITH, Ark– With hospitalizations expected to continue surging in Arkansas, Governor Hutchinson is warning the state of “difficult decisions” ahead if hospitals continue to see a spike in COVID-19 patients.

On Friday, he signed an executive order to create a winter COVID-19 task force. One priority for the force- addressing hospital capacity as COVID-19 cases rise.

“One of the major points of our task force will be to look at our hospital capacity and what can more can be done to manage that capacity,” he said.

Data from the Arkansas Department of Health show-as of Friday- almost 9% of hospital beds in Arkansas are filled with coronavirus patients. While 28% of the state’s ICU units are caring for those battling the sickness.

Stephanie Whitaker, Vice President of Patient Care at Baptist Health-Fort Smith said her staff is already preparing.

“We’re just in the thick of it, so to speak, and I worry that if we let down our guard it’s going to be even worse in the spring late winter early spring,” she said.

To handle the potential influx in patients, the hospital is adding staff to the payroll.

“We’ve onboarded additional nurses to care for patients, we’ve opened up some care spaces that during the summer were not needed,” Whitaker said.

If Baptist Health hits capacity, Whitaker said non-COVID-19 patients will be sent to its sister location in Van Buren. The goal is to not turn away people away, whether they’re battling the coronavirus or some other illness.

“People should not be afraid to come to the hospital if they are sick,” Whitaker said. “That’s really important the hospital is a safe place for you to come seek care.”

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