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UAMS seeing need for more healthcare workers amid COVID-19 pandemic

As COVID-19 numbers go up, the concern over whether the state can care for sick Arkansans also goes up.

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas — Since the pandemic started, frontline workers have been in the middle of it all. Nurses and hospital staff deciding if their career is worth the novel virus' unpredictable outcome.

This week, the Arkansas Hospital Association said the bed capacity isn't the most concerning, it's the need for healthcare workers.

RELATED: Arkansas reports record-high 1,548 new COVID-19 cases in a single day

"It is a challenge. People are making choices if you're going to be a healthcare worker or a nurse," said UAMS's Chief Nursing Officer Trenda Ray.

Ray says UAMS is still getting nursing students to apply, but they are more hesitant where they work in the hospital. Applicants are now asking what units they will be working in and if that includes COVID-19 patients.

To help keep a substantial staff at UAMS, new hires are getting competitive perks.

"We have a sign-on bonus. So, depending on the nurse's experience, their background, and the area they will work here, we have a robust sign-on bonus of $25,000, said Ray. 

"We also have an excellent clinical ladder here that focuses on professional development for our nurses," said Ray.

As far as bed capacity goes, Thursday morning, UAMS only had 1 intensive care unit bed available, but Ray says that's unrelated to the increase of COVID-19 cases.

"We had capacity issues prior to the pandemic. Being the adult academic institution of the state, there's a lot of demand for our services and we've continued to see that through the pandemic," said Ray.

"This was based on a normal population. Our COVID numbers have been really stable," said Ray.

A spokesperson for Baptist Health said they have a 3% vacancy rate for nurses. 

RELATED: US hits 100,000 daily COVID-19 cases, as Fauci predicted

In a statement from Baptist Health, it said, "We currently have available hospital beds as well as surge plans if needed to create capacity. In addition, we feel like we are adequately staffed to meet our patients' needs at this time."