By Rachell Sanchez-Smith
The hospitals in the North Central region of Arkansas reported an influx of COVID-19 patients to the state health department, leading to an unfolding hospitalization crisis over the last few weeks.
A new and potent strain of COVID-19, known as the delta variant, is penetrating communities, especially those with low vaccination rates, causing cases and hospitalization rates to soar. The north-central region of Arkansas reported the highest hospitalization rate statewide, according to July 9 data from the Arkansas Department of Health. The area has a rate of 10.86 COVID-19 cases per 100 beds, which exceeds the statewide average rate of 5.77.
In addition to the growing hospitalization rate, the resurgence of COVID-19 has pushed the daily case total into the thousands. On July 10, the state reported 1,210 new cases, followed by 1,155 cases the next day, a level not seen in the state since February 2021.
The increase in hospitalizations and more severe COVID-19 cases has put a strain on hospitals in the region like Baxter Regional Medical Center nestled in Mountain Home, Arkansas.
“Our emergency department probably averaged 80 patients a day,” Ron Peterson, president and CEO of Baxter Regional Medical Center, said. “In July, we’ve probably been averaging over 100 patients a day like yesterday, we saw 124 patients.”
While not all of these patients were COVID-19 related, said Peterson, the uptick of cases has created a burden for medical centers. Especially as vaccination lags in the nearby counties, Baxter county reported a 32.5% vaccination rate as of July 9, 2021, according to the ADH.
“The majority of our admitted patients are not vaccinated. We have seen just a small percentage of those that have been vaccinated.” said Stephanie Free, the infection prevention coordinator for Baxter Regional Medical Center.
The usual travel between northern counties and neighboring states, like the southwest Missouri region, has also led to the upsurge of cases, according to Peterson. Furthermore, as local tourism picks up for northern counties during the summer so has COVID-19 outbreaks.
The COVID-19 resurgence coupled with a staffing crisis, has put a strain on local hospitals to operate with longstanding burnout from the pandemic.
“What’s making it very stressful for us at this point, we’re probably operating at about 20 fewer nurses right now than what we had back then [winter].” Peterson said.