Mette and Chief Nursing Officer Trenda Ray discuss patient care at UAMS.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will return to elective medical procedures the first week in May with its advanced imaging — such as MRIs and CT scans — offerings, medical center CEO Dr. Steppe Mette said today.

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Mette also said UAMS will be able to handle Governor Hutchinson’s “surge” suggestion to anyone with COVID-19 symptoms, even if they don’t meet prior eligibility requirements on age and comorbidities, that they be tested for the virus. UAMS has a drive-through screening and testing setup. “We have ample testing supplies,” Mette said, and its supply of personal protective equipment is in good shape for now. The testing recommendation was implemented today and will run through tomorrow. The governor’s surge came as a surprise to the Arkansas Hospital Association, which expressed concern about the ability of some hospitals to be able to test.

The Arkansas Department of Health’s directive allowing the resumption of elective procedures, which were suspended because of the COVID-19 outbreak, on Monday, April 27, requires that all patients test negative for the virus in the 48 hours before the procedure. Mette said that while UAMS’ testing platforms can provide results in that time frame, depending on how many procedures it’s doing, it will “barely” have the capacity to meet the test requirement.

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“The big debate right now within Arkansas is, is there enough testing capacity to reach the 48-hour expectation before a procedure? If you look at the number of procedures done vs. the tests that can be done in Arkansas — there may not be an adequate supply. Which means reliance on reference labs,” such as Quest and LabCorp. Mette said UAMS’ experience with getting quick results from references labs has been “pretty good,” but that he is hearing “that’s not the experience of many hospitals.”

When the ADH ordered a halt to elective procedures April 3, UAMS rescheduled its imaging patients for June. He acknowledged that there could be logistical problems in scheduling procedures that will require the results of a test; making up the backlog, he said, will require an extra 60 to 100 testing swabs per day. “And that is in addition to the more urgent testing that we’re doing on an emergency basis.”

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UAMS will reopen its outpatient clinics the second week of May, Mette said; that will require a change in the manner patients are admitted, to continue to provide for social distancing. The hospital will do outpatient surgery in the third week of May, Mette said.

Mette said UAMS will not as a matter of course make tests available to patients having elective surgeries at other hospitals. “We think that a hospital needs to find its own solution for elective care. Where we can help out, we’ll try to.”

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