State sees additional ICU beds, surge capacity as hospitals work to adjust to COVID-19 spike


LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As the number of Arkansans on ventilators reaches an all-time high, medical centers are continuing to closely watch their ICU beds as the surge continues.

According to a tweet sent by Gov. Asa Hutchinson Tuesday, hospital capacity is slowly starting to tick up across the state due to the introduction of additional ICU beds and surge capacity.

But even with a few more open rooms, the main concern isn’t space; it’s staff.

Dr. Steppe Mette, senior vice chancellor of UAMS is one of those working to solve the problem of capacity vs. demand. With COVID cases spiking, the hospital has had to adjust.

“It’s really just a numbers issue for us,” Mette explained. “[We’re taking] beds that are currently used for different reasons and appropriating them for surge capacity.”

Surge capacity is when unused beds or those used for other clinical reasons are repurposed to meet the constant stream of patients; in this case, COVID patients. The Governor’s tweet revealed that statewide surge capacity had slowly reached almost 700 beds, with 17 additional ICU beds across the state.

Baptist Health alone has added 87 COVID inpatient and ICU beds in their medical centers across the state, with plans to up that number by 70 in Fort Smith and Van Buren. 

As for UAMS, their COVID limit is 144 patients, a number found during a previous spike in the spring of 2020. The hospital currently has 66 COVID patients in their care, with “about a third of those” in the ICU.

But Dr. Mette explains that when it comes to upping capacity, physical beds aren’t the issue. “It’s not the space,” Mette said, “it’s the staffing.”

The national shortage of healthcare workers is the major roadblock, with the conundrum of keeping the hospital adequately staffed without overworking nurses. Mette says to avoid this, the hospital is “rethinking the staffing ratios, allowing for more team-based care,” and is integrating technology into nurse’s daily work to avoid stretching them too thin.

In terms of what Arkansans can do to help with capacity, Dr. Mette says the answer is to simply stay healthy and not take up an ICU or hospital bed. He adds that getting vaccinated, masking up, and maintaining social distancing is an easy way to do that.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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