An Arkansas panel on Monday approved an emergency request to allocate $50.1 million in federal funds to temporarily increase bed capacity at hospitals across the state.
The funds from the American Rescue Plan Act will add 265 beds at 11 hospitals under pressure from a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the omicron variant. Additional intensive care and routine care beds will be funded for between 28 and 45 days.
The request came from the Arkansas Department of Health, which warned that hospitalizations have increased more than 120% over the past four weeks and demand for care has skyrocketed.
The bed allocation is:
- Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway, 28 beds for 28 days
- Baptist Health-Van Buren, 35 beds for 28 days
- Conway Regional Medical Center, 34 beds for 45 days
- CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs, 30 beds for 45 days
- CHI St. Vincent Infirmary in Little Rock, 30 beds for 45 days
- Mercy Hospital Fort Smith, 16 beds for 45 days
- Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas in Rogers, 18 beds for 30 days
- St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro, 21 beds for 30 days
- Unity Health-White County Medical Center, 35 beds for 45 beds
- Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, 8 beds for 45 days
- Arkansas Children's Hospital in Little Rock, 10 beds for 30 days
About $66 million in funds previously allocated to aid hospitals has been spent, though the Federal Emergency Management Agency has indicated that it will reimburse the state.
Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero on Monday told a state committee responsible for allocating the funds that said the majority of those hospitalized have not been vaccinated and have not received a booster shot. He said that overall, cases are mild, but the high volume of cases from the highly-transmissible variant means the number of severe cases will rise proportionally. Child admissions to intensive care units are expected to surpass the previous peak seen with the delta variant.
Romero said the surge is expected to peak sometime this month but that Arkansas' low vaccination rate, about 52%, is a "disadvantage" for the state.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday announced that the state had acquired 211,000 at-home COVID test kits that will be available free to residents. It's the first shipment of 1.5 million at-home tests that the state is purchasing. The $10 million cost of the tests will be covered by existing funds.
The tests will be available at public libraries, public health units and other locations. The National Guard has been directed to help deliver the tests.