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Arkansas hospitals receive millions in ARPA funds to help with omicron surge


Arkansas hospitals are receiving millions of dollars from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for additional beds and staffing they say are needed as COVID-19 cases surge again.

The state’s ARPA Steering Committee approved a $4.7 million expenditure for 27 additional beds for the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences.

Part of the funding will be used for 20 negative pressure COVID-19 beds for 30 days. The rest will fund seven negative pressure intensive care unit beds for 45 days.

While the omicron variant is said to be less severe, some patients still require hospitalization, Secretary of Health Dr. Jose Romero said.

The state reported 1,817 people hospitalized Monday with COVID-19, an increase of 184; the biggest one-day jump since the pandemic began, Romero said at Monday afternoon’s Steering Committee meeting.

Hospitalizations declined by 32 people Tuesday but the number of people on ventilators increased by 18, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at his weekly briefing.

“It’s still very strained in the hospitals,” Hutchinson said. “There’s a need to bring on additional beds right now, and that’s the reason we’ve asked the General Assembly, the Legislative Council to support and approve the $4.7 million for UAMS to expand beds.”

The Legislative Council is expected to discuss the expenditure this week.

Earlier this month, the co-chairs of the Arkansas Legislative Council (ALC) and the ALC-PEER Subcommittee approved $50 million in ARPA funds for 98 intensive care unit beds and 167 medical beds for COVID-19 patients at 11 Arkansas hospitals. The ALC-PEER subcommittee reviews the financial operation and performance of state agencies and hears spending requests.

The expenditure was questioned by lawmakers at Tuesday’s PEER Subcommittee meeting.

Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, questioned whether the hospitals had staffing shortages because they fired nurses who did not get their COVID-19 vaccine.

“Why are they getting massive government bailouts now from the taxpayer dollars of the people they fired to fund replacements?” Garner said.

Some lawmakers questioned why the $50 million expenditure was not brought before the full ALC-PEER subcommittee instead of being approved by the co-chairs.

“We anticipate that this surge is going to peak sometime in the next two weeks,” Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, co-chair of ALC PEER Subcommittee, said Tuesday during a meeting. “There’s quite a bit of time needed to be able to staff up because there is a nursing shortage. We could have delayed until this Friday and they probably would have never had the opportunity to open up the additional beds to meet the additional demand as the peak started to fall.”

This article was originally posted on Arkansas hospitals receive millions in ARPA funds to help with omicron surge

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