Ark. Governor, state officials announce third COVID-19 death, initiative to improve healthcare access

Coronavirus

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.- Governor Asa Hutchinson unveiled an initiative to improve healthcare access Thursday in the daily update to the state’s response to the coronavirus.  

The governor announced several proposals for financial support.  

The first is a capital improvement, which would allow health agencies to have drive-thru test sites and isolation rooms.    Another would be for workforce safety, which would be used for extended hours at clinics for more patient access.   The third would be the expansion of telemedicine and medical transportation to keep patients connected to medical care.    There would also be additional payments to support nurses, either $1,000 a month or $2,000 a month for nurses who work in at-risk facilities.   

There would also be an additional payment to temporary housing and nursing facilities that care for COVID-19 patients.   The funding would be in total $116 million: $15 million for environment modifications of hospitals, $16 million for modifications for community providers, $19 million for workforce training and expansion of telemedicine, $5 million for the homeless initiative, $1.4 million to cover uninsured patients, $3 million of payments to areas with high concentration of COVID-19 patients, and $55 million of long-term care workers.   According to the governor, the state would only have to pay $25 million.  

The governor and Department of Human Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie also announced foster parents will receive an additional $500 a month during this public health emergency.    The governor has asked for a waiver from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services because Medicaid does not normally allow these practices.    

DHS adviser Dennis Smith said this is a unique and targeted approach where providers will be able to tell their priorities, and it will be “getting outside the Medicaid Box”.  

Both Hutchinson and Dennis Smith said they are hoping for a quick and favorable approval.    Dr. Nate Smith, Secretary of the Department of Health, announced that a third person had died due to the coronavirus in central Arkansas, but did not give additional information.   

As of Thursday at the news conference, 335 people had confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Of those, 14 are children, 108 are 65 and older and 213 are adults aged 19-64.  

Dr. Smith announced 41 were in the hospital and 13 were on ventilators. The jump was due to ADH using a different method of collecting data from the hospitals. Dr. Smith urged hospitals to give daily updates.   

Dr. Cam Patterson, Chancellor at UAMS, announced Thursday that the procurement team had made a very large purchase of personal protective equipment for the state. This includes 3 million N95 masks, 4 million surgical masks, 4 million disposable gowns, 2.1 million face shields and 7 million gloves. They are scheduled to arrive starting this weekend. 

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