Little Rock’s major hospitals have a collective “surge plan” and any child care operation the Little Rock School District develops for hospital workers would be staffed only with district employees who volunteer were among the topics discussed at the city’s COVID-19 Task Force meeting on Monday.
Dr. Steppe Mette, CEO of UAMS, said that Little Rock hospitals would create surge capacity by adapting rooms and changing staffing-to-patient ratios without going into further detail.
He cautioned that there were a number of variables that made planning difficult.
“The exact ability to surge and the exact capacity will depend on many different factors: What the demand is; how well our staff are, which is no small thing. … what our supplies are; our ability to access ventilators; and the overall duration of the surge. We can do anything for a short amount of time. Six weeks is one thing; six months is another.”
Dr. Dean Kumpuris, the city director who chairs the task force, touted the work of U.S. Rep. French Hill, along with UAMS and state leaders, to secure 500 ventilators for Little Rock hospitals.
But Kumpuris’ info was out of date by a few hours. Mette had an update. The manufacturer of the ventilators accepted a bid that was greater by $20,000 per ventilator from New York state, which has become the worldwide epicenter of the disease. “That’s the environment in which we’re living sadly,” Mette said.
In introducing LRSD Superintendent Mike Poore, Kumpuris said that we “live in this city in an age of politics,” perhaps alluding to the concerns many voiced about how LRSD staff and buildings might be used to provide childcare for hospital workers. Poore said that he was meeting with the human resource departments of all of the hospitals tomorrow and emphasized that LRSD staff would be participating in the childcare program on a voluntary basis. He said he believed the district would have enough volunteers.
“We’ve got to go create a pristine environment,” Poore said, “and we’re going to need your help as a medical community … to create that environment.”
Dr. Amanda Novack, infectious disease specialist with Baptist Health, acknowledged that most patients who contract the novel coronavirus don’t require treatment and can remain at home. But she said, among those who do require hospitalization, patients’ conditions can deteriorate rapidly.
“What we’re seeing clinically is that these patients decompensate a lot faster than almost anything else that we’re used to,” Novack said. “The idea that people can stay in their home, small town hospitals until they get bad enough — I don’t think this disease process allows for this.”
She said she didn’t know what that meant for for Central Arkansas being a hub for care.
Mette told the group that the most pressing need among fragile populations was to provide quarantine housing for homeless people. He explained a scenario where a homeless person might show symptoms and be refused admittance to a shelter without a negative test, but might not meet criteria to be tested by UAMS, the Arkansas Department of Health or another hospital.
Mayor Frank Scott Jr. reiterated that the city had secured as many as 1,000 hotel rooms to potentially house such patients.