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Clinics across Arkansas struggle to secure PPE as coronavirus restrictions ease

Gov. Hutchinson and top state health officials said overall Arkansas is in good shape, but clinics across the state said the need is still there.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — It's been an important topic since the beginning of COVID-19 and it's still an issue being brought up months later, does Arkansas have enough PPE?

THV11 dug for answers to find out where the surpluses and shortages lie in our state. 

Dr. Shayne Conine has owned her own dental practice in Lonoke for the last 26 years. 

"My profession is very high risk from contracting this from a patient if we don't have the proper PPE," she said. 

If it wasn't for help from friends, Conine would not have been able to open her doors until last week. 

RELATED: Coronavirus updates: 522 new cases, 2 more deaths in Arkansas

"I was very very frustrated in the beginning because the governor was saying we have plenty of PPE, but the dentists weren't able to get it," she said. 

Conine ordered N-95 masks back in March, but her first supply came in just days ago. 

"We were given the okay to open on May 11, but we still didn't have PPE," she said.

With community support, Conine got enough masks to start seeing her patients again on May 18, but the demand is still there. 

"We just now, in the past week, have gotten our gowns in and some N-95 masks, but we'd like to have more N-95's so we don't have to keep reusing the same ones over and over," she said. 

David Wroten, the executive vice president of the Arkansas Medical Society, said the search for this protective wear is a story heard in other healthcare clinics across the state. 

"The need is strong and it's not limited to our smaller medical offices. It's our larger medical offices as well," he said. 

Since March, the Arkansas Medical Society has been working with the governor's office to deliver PPE to nursing homes, hospitals and medical clinics, according to Wroten. 

"The supply chains still have not fully opened back up. There may be some extremely large medical practices that are able to buy some products, but there's still a big strong shortage for things like gowns and face masks," he said. 

Wroten said they have helped over 500 medical practices and supplied nearly one million PPE to those clinics, but now they are starting fresh with 250 new clinics who still need those same things. 

"The need is still strong enough that everything that we can get, there's a place for it and there are people that need it," he said. 

In reference to the state as a whole, Governor Hutchinson and top state health officials said overall Arkansas is in good shape. 

RELATED: Getting tested for COVID-19 in Arkansas: What you need to know

Troy Wells, Baptist Health CEO, advised medical clinics to keep ordering and planning for more PPE throughout the year. 

"I would just tell everybody, providers in communities, to talk to one another and find out if there are organizations or institutions in your region that have the ability to help you out," he said. 

Dr. Nate Smith with the Arkansas Department of Health also reminded healthcare centers they can use the free services from the decontamination unit at the large Goodwill warehouse in Little Rock. 

With that special cleaning system, you can clean an N-95 mask 20 times before needing to throw it out.