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story.lead_photo.caption University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson speaks Tuesday at the kickoff for the Take Care Arkansas campaign at the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. More photos at arkansasonline.com/624care/.
(Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staton Breidenthal) ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Staton Breidenthal)

Never has it been safer to go to the hospital, health officials insisted Tuesday morning.

Protocols are in place to protect patients and medical personnel from covid-19 infection, and everyone who needs surgery of any kind should not hesitate to get it. That was the message from the top executives of every hospital across Central Arkansas and Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

"The pandemic came along and set all of that aside," Hutchinson said during Tuesday morning's news conference in front of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce building on East Markham Street. "We need to reengage and that's what this campaign does."

Gallery: Take Care Arkansas kickoff

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Fifty for the Future, a nonprofit that aims to develop regional projects for the progress of the Little Rock metro region, has teamed with the six hospitals and Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield to kickstart the Take Care Arkansas campaign, which will last for up to four weeks and will include multi-media advertising to urge people to address all of their medical needs.

Dr. Dean Kumpuris, medical director for Fifty for the Future, said the temporary halt to voluntary elective procedures that took place earlier during the emergency was necessary, but patients should feel safe and secure now that it has been lifted.

"We must make people understand their health care situation is not an either-or situation," Kumpuris said. "We have an ability to take care of all covid situations and at the same time take care of other Arkansans who have other illnesses."

[CORONAVIRUS: Click here for our complete coverage » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus]

The campaign comes after numerous hospitals have had to lay off or furlough portions of their workforce.

On June 12, Arkansas Children's hospital announced it had to lay off 25 employees and reduce compensation for some of its top executives. A week before that, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences confirmed it had eliminated 15 positions. In April, Baptist Health announced that more than 2,300 employees had to be furloughed either full time, 50% or 25%.

The "seed money" for the Take Care Arkansas campaign has come from Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, said Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of the company.

"As we've monitored the situation these past three months, we've heard from many of our members that they have delayed important health care in fear of contracting [covid-19]," he stated in a media release Tuesday. "We understand. But we also know that delayed care often can lead to worsening conditions or improper healing, so we want to encourage Arkansans to be safe, but seek the care they need to get and stay healthy."

The campaign will run through July 19 and will include television commercials, as well as outdoor and digital media, organizers said.

The hospitals teaming up are UAMS, Arkansas Children's hospital, Baptist Health, Arkansas Surgical Hospital, Arkansas Heart Hospital and CHI St. Vincent. The CEOs from all six spoke to the media Tuesday.

Those who do come in for surgeries have had to go through their in-house recoveries alone. They don't have the comfort of visitors due to covid-19 risk and those restrictions have not been lifted.

Troy Wells, CEO at Baptist Health, said that has been "perhaps the most challenging thing" for patients to handle.

He said the difficulties associated with limiting visitors are still necessary to "protect patients and clinicians alike."

Marcy Doderer, CEO of Arkansas Children's, also referred to the decline in the number of childhood vaccines being administered during the covid-19 crisis. She encouraged parents to remain in contact with their children's pediatricians and to stay on top of vaccine schedules.

"The pandemic is a threat to our long-term success," Doderer said, adding that it "has the power to lure families to believe that routine health care can wait."

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