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Hospital officials warn coronavirus models point to capacity concerns

If the model developed by UAMS proves to be true, the state's hospitals could be pushed to their full capacity due to COVID-19.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark — The chancellor of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences raised alarms in front of state lawmakers Thursday at a hearing called to get an update on hospital readiness as the coronavirus pandemic stalks the state.

Dr. Cam Patterson shocked some members of the joint subcommittee overseeing hospitals and Medicaid with the figures emerging from the latest models developed by the UAMS School of Public Health.

RELATED: UAMS study predicts Arkansas COVID-19 death increase if social distancing guidelines ignored

"The UAMS model predicts that the peak will be about 50 times higher than the current incidence of infection," Dr. Patterson said. Subcommittee chair state representative Fred Love (D - Little Rock) interrupted him.

"Hold on for a second. Hold on. Did you say 50 times?" Rep. Love asked.

The chancellor replied "Five. Zero."

The forecast would be for cases into six figures by September or early October if the state's response doesn't change. If current percentages of infected patients stay the same, that could push hospitals to their capacity, especially if a surge comes in a less-populated part of the state.

"The numbers are obviously concerning," said Dr. Jerilyn Jones, the director of the Arkansas Dept. of Health's preparedness and response branch. She also works for UAMS and shared the panel with Dr. Patterson and Dr. Steppe Metta at the subcommittee hearing.

Dr. Jones has been encouraged by the improved cooperation among hospitals that has developed in the three months of the pandemic. She said the state is in a good position with timing of any surges playing a key role.

"The idea is that everything would hit at one time," she said. "If everything doesn't hit at one time, our hospital system is more than capable of absorbing things."

As of Thursday afternoon, ADH reported the state's hospitals had the following:

Total beds: 8,917

Total available beds: 2,260

Total ICU beds: 968

Total available ICU beds: 179

Total ventilators: 894

Total available ventilators: 568

Total COVID patients in ICU beds: 111

Total COVID patients on vents: 53

Total vents in use: 326

Health officials point to the relatively small percentage of COVID patients making up the entirety of people receiving intensive care. If that ratio increases, the hospital officials said they had plans in place to open wards in other parts of their facilities and in a worst-case scenario, go back to curtailing elective surgeries.

But none, including Gov. Asa Hutchinson, want to do that.

"People have been without these surgeries and procedures for months, and it's also a big part of hospitals' financial management picture," the governor said during his daily briefing held Thursday in Fort Smith.

Dr. Patterson said UAMS lost about a million dollars a day in revenue when hospitals were forced to close most of their facilities in March and April in anticipation of a patient surge. Troy Wells, the CEO of Baptist Health announced similar losses in his testimony to the subcommittee.

RELATED: Arkansas listed as COVID-19 hot spot by Kansas Department of Health

If a new surge arrives, the governor said he could reconsider, but most felt the now-familiar refrain of how to fight the virus stands a chance of impacting the outcome.

"All we have is social distancing. All we have is wearing a covering when you're going out in public," said Dr. Jones. "If people just say, 'Hey, the state is opened up, we can just do whatever.' No, that's not the case. Because if that happens, then there is a high likelihood that everyone will get sick all at one same time."