PINE BLUFF, Ark. — Coronavirus cases in Arkansas are steadily rising and one area of concern is rural communities.
In 2020 during the height of the pandemic, Jefferson Regional saw 28 hospitalizations for patients who were positive for COVID-19.
Today, there are 17 patients who are hospitalized which is still alarming for staff as they are fearful of another surge in cases.
Erin Bolton is the director of Quality and Regulatory, she said Jefferson Regional has seen an increase in positive COVID-19 patients since May.
“We're tired. We've been fighting this for a long time and it looks like we are headed, unfortunately, back into where we were this time last year,” she said.
Even when the hospital saw a decline in cases, Bolton said they never closed their COVID-19 unit entirely.
With cases continuing to rise, they are prepared to fully reopen the unit.
“Our numbers have about doubled just in the last week and we know we're still anticipating another kind of surge following the July 4th holiday,” she said. “As we've seen that number increase, obviously fewer non-COVID patients have been able to be housed there. If necessary we can move those patients off and it would just become a full COVID unit again.”
Jefferson Regional serves more than 200,000 patients from rural towns in southeast Arkansas and the hospital has made efforts to get those people vaccinated.
“We were blessed early on to get quite a bit of vaccines and we've tried to share that with other rural hospitals,” Bolton said.
Now, they are faced with the issue of people who aren't getting the shot.
“We currently have about 3,000 vaccines that will expire at the end of July. We're trying desperately to use those,” she said.
Bolton said one of the biggest contributors to positive cases rising at Jefferson Regional are unvaccinated people.
“We have seen a few cases of patients who are positive who have had the vaccine. However, their symptoms are much milder, they have not for the most part required any hospitalization,” she said.
As of today, there are only 12 ICU beds available for patients with severe cases.
The hospital has started an incentive program that they hope will encourage employees to go and get the vaccine.