The number of hospital patients suffering from the COVID-19 coronavirus at Mercy Fort Smith is back up to a summertime peak and the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state is at an all-time, single-day high.
Sebastian County had the fourth highest number of new cases in the state Monday with 64 new cases.
Mercy Fort Smith currently is near its maximum capacity in the COVID Intensive Care Unit. The hospital on Rogers Avenue has 13 isolation rooms available in the ICU as well as 44 other beds available for medical surgery.
As reported last week by The Associated Press, Gov. Asa Hutchinson will be looking at hospitalization numbers to determine if more COVID restrictions will be put in place.
"The only thing that will trigger anything is that if we don’t have any hospital space to deal with," Hutchinson said in a discussion Nov. 12 with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and the Arkansas Municipal League broadcast live on Facebook. "Then you have to start making some very, very difficult decisions that you don’t want to have to make."
As of 11 a.m. Monday, Mercy Fort Smith had 12 COVID patients in the ICU and 26 others hospitalized in COVID units. The last time the hospital saw COVID hospitalizations this high was early June, a Mercy spokesperson noted.
Stephanie Whitaker, MSN, RN, vice president of Patient Care and Chief Nursing Executive for Baptist Health, said it is "very common for ICU's to run at or near capacity" and the health care provider currently has "available hospital beds as well as surge plans if needed to create capacity."
"We feel that we are meeting our patients’ needs with quality safe care, though staffing for healthcare is always a challenge and something we deal with on a daily basis," Whitaker said.
Baptist Health has more numerous ventilators across our health care system that can be moved to where they are needed. We also have the ability to create additional ventilators by converting anesthesia and BiPAP machines if needed.
COVID Task Force
Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily Arkansas COVID-19 response updated noted the Arkansas Department of Health reported 1,308 new cases on Monday: 16,485 active cases; 861 hospitalized, which is up 31 from Sunday; 123 on ventilators, which is up seven from Sunday; deaths added Monday were 42, for a total of 2,225.
The Health Department reported that the top counties for new cases are Washington, 161; Pulaski, 130; Benton, 70; Sebastian, 64; and Craighead, 63.
"The new cases are higher than last Monday, and this may be an indication we are in for a tough week ahead," Hutchinson stated. "The 42 new deaths is regrettably an all-time high in a single day. While there is good news on the vaccine front this morning, we have to work together to reduce cases, hospitalizations and save lives."
Mercy Fort Smith Hospital President Ryan Gehrig is among 19-member Winter COVID-19 Task Force created last week.
"It's an extreme honor to be chosen to work with Governor Hutchinson's task force," Gehrig stated in a news release. "I look forward to meeting with the group as we work toward solutions to containing COVID-19 as we head into the winter months. As always, keeping the residents of Arkansas safe and healthy is our No. 1 goal, and I look forward to working with health care leaders from throughout the state to come up with ways to achieve this goal."
Troy Wells, president and CEO of Baptist Health, is also on the task force.
"This task force is really important and I'm glad to have been asked to serve," Wells said. "It's important that we bring the state of Arkansas together and that's what this is all about. The governor has done a great job leading us through the pandemic and this is another example of that great leadership."
Hutchinson will serve as chair of the task force. Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe will serve as vice chair. The other members of the COVID-19 Winter Task Force are:
• Larry Shackelford, president and CEO of Washington Regional Medical Center
• Chris Barber, president and CEO of St. Bernard’s Healthcare
• Scott Street, CEO of Medical Center of South Arkansas
• Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
• Rachel Bunch, executive director of Arkansas Health Care Association
• Bo Ryall, president and CEO of Arkansas Hospital Association
• Troy Wells, president and CEO of Baptist Health
• Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Hospital, Fort Smith;
• Major General Kendall Penn, adjutant general, Arkansas National Guard
•. A.J. Gary, director of Arkansas Department of Emergency Management
• Dr. José Romero, secretary of Arkansas Department of Health
•. Dr. Jerrilyn Jones, Arkansas Department of Health
• Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, Arkansas Department of Health
• Dr. Naveen Patil, Arkansas Department of Health
• Dr. Keyur Vyas, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences;
• Phillip Gilmore, CEO of Ashley County Medical Center;
• Dr. Steven Collier, CEO of ARcare;
• Ron Peterson, president and CEO of Baxter County Regional Medical Center; and
• Additional citizens as the Governor deems necessary.