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Arkansas health officials worry COVID patients on ventilators will overwhelm hospitals

The number of COVID-19 patients on a ventilator has continued to increase in Arkansas and on Monday, it reached its peak once again.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The number of patients on a ventilator has continued to increase and on Monday it reached its peak once again.

At last check, 267 Arkansans were on a ventilator and Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, with the department of health, said it's concerning for the vicious cycle COVID-19 causes.

"This is the result of sustained high level, or high rated spread, in our communities of COVID-19," she said.

The number of COVID-19 patients on a ventilator jumped by 30 Monday. 

Dillaha called it another record-breaking moment in this pandemic. 

"One of the reasons it's so distressing to me is about half of the people pass away, they never come off of the ventilator alive," she said.

UAMS has 28% of its ventilators currently in use. Less than 20% of COVID-19 patients at CHI St. Vincent are on a ventilator and Baptist Health has a similar number at 23%. 

Hospitals expressed that running out of these life-saving machines isn't the issue, with 617 still available in our state. 

Dr. Dillaha said it's another concerns.

"The issue is the beds in the hospitals and the issue behind that is the staff that is needed to take care of people who are so very ill in the ICU," she said.

The problem of not having enough experienced ICU nurses to care for a patient on a ventilator is a concern at Ouachita County Medical Center in Camden, according to CEO Peggy Abbott.

"We are actually in that phrase, 'dark winter of COVID,'" she said.

Abbott, who has been at the hospital for over 30 years, said since the start of the pandemic this is the first time that every in-patient in their facility is COVID-19 positive.

"In all those years of tenure, I've never known one specific disease or virus that has dominated," she said.

Both Abbott and the Chief Nursing Officer Melodee Sanders worry about the hard reality in the future, when they possibly have to turn someone away.

"It just pierces my heart daily that it could come to that point in our community," Sanders said.

According to Abbott, hospital CEOs around the state are having to get creative on where they could put patients if their facilities get too crowded. 

She said at Ouachita Medical Center, they have looked at the possibility of using their conference room or turning an outpatient center into an inpatient one.