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As Northwest Arkansas cases increase, Washington Regional moves to phase 2 of covid plan

Closed amenities, visitor limits kick in as virus cases rise by Janelle Jessen | July 22, 2021 at 3:22 a.m.
FILE -- Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville (NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Washington Regional Medical System announced Wednesday plans to move to phase two of its covid-19 surge plan in response to the increase of covid-19 cases and hospitalizations in Northwest Arkansas.

The changes allow the hospital to expand its capacity to care for the increasing number of covid-19 and non-covid-19 patients, according to a statement from Birch Wright, chief operating officer and administrator. Visitor access will be reduced starting today, and the hospital gift shop, coffee shop and cafeteria will be closed to visitors.

The health system's most recent covid-19 surge plan has four phases designed to adapt to the needs of the community, Wright said. Each phase allows for increased inpatient demand, allowing Washington Regional to take care of all patients, he said.

The last time Washington Regional was in phase two was Jan. 11 through Feb. 2, he said.

Ninety-three patients were being treated in covid-19 units at Northwest Arkansas hospitals Tuesday, according to Martine Pollard, a spokeswoman for Mercy Health System, who released a joint statement from the region's largest health care providers. That represents a 60% increase in the past week and a 615% increase from five weeks ago, she said.

"Almost all of these patients are not vaccinated," Pollard said.

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The rate of increase isn't sustainable, according to Wright. Washington Regional is caring for a continued increase of critical care patients in addition to the surge of covid-19 patients, he said.

"It's important for the community to know this is a serious situation," Wright said. "Northwest Arkansas hospitals have seen a significant increase in hospitalized covid-19 patients over the last 30 days with an exponential increase over the last week."

Across the state, 848 patients were hospitalized with covid-19 Wednesday, 334 were in intensive care units and 156 were on ventilators, according to Danyelle McNeill, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Health. A total of 673 ventilators were available, but only 40 ICU beds were open.

As part of phase two, Washington Regional plans to temporarily reassign hospital and clinic staffers to the areas of most critical need in the hospital, according to the health system's statement. The change also allows Washington Regional to move to a team-based nursing approach where primary nurses have support from secondary nurses for non-specialized tasks.

Changes to the visitor policy are being made to safeguard patients, employees and the community, according to the statement. Visitor hours will be reduced along with the number of visitors allowed in most areas of the hospital.

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According to the hospital website, outpatients and patients being evaluated in the emergency department for conditions other than covid-19 may be allowed one visitor. Inpatients may be allowed one visitor from 1-7 p.m. Covid patients will be allowed visitors only when they are receiving end-of-life care.

Guidelines are more lenient for obstetrics patients, neonatal intensive care unit patients, patients with disabilities and terminal patients. Clergy members and lay persons offering spiritual support may visit without limitation, the site states.

Visitors will continue to be required to wear approved masks on the Washington Regional campus, including in patient rooms; pass a coronavirus screening before entering the facility; and practice proper hand hygiene, according to the website. For those who fail the screening, options for remote electronic visitation may be available.

Northwest Health is closely monitoring the number of local cases and following federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations and guidelines, said Abby Davenport, vice president of marketing and communications. The health system is continuing to require masks and social distancing in its facilities, she said.

Mercy Health System is operating under the same surge plan instituted in April 2020 when officials realized that the pandemic was worsening, according to spokeswoman Jennifer Cook. As the number of covid-19 hospitalizations has fluctuated with the pandemic, the hospital has closed and opened parts of its covid-19 unit as needed, she said.

Recently, the hospital opened covid-19 beds in a second unit, she said.

"We urge community members to get vaccinated if they have not already, to encourage family members and friends to get vaccinated and to be vigilant in public," Wright said.

Vaccine clinic

Northwest Arkansas Council is hosting a Pfizer vaccine clinic from noon-4. p.m. Friday at J.B. Hunt Transport Service headquarters in Lowell. The clinic is for anyone 12 and older getting their first or second dose of Pfizer vaccine. Vaccines are free, and walk-ins will be accepted. For more info or to register, visit nwacouncil.org/nwavaccines/ .

Source: Northwest Arkansas Council

Print Headline: NW hospital in surge phase 2

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