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Statement from Washington Regional COO Birch G. Wright Regarding Washington Regional Implementation of COVID-19 Surge Plan

As is the case with most areas of the nation, Northwest Arkansas is experiencing an increase in COVID-19 cases and inpatient hospitalizations. Washington Regional Medical Center currently has the capacity to treat both COVID and non-COVID patients. As with any prudent hospital system, we continually monitor hospitalization trends and community infection prevalence, and develop contingency plans to ensure that we are prepared for surges in demand for our services. We are concerned about the next two to four weeks. If cases continue to rise at the current rate, we will increasingly be challenged to meet the needs of our community. We are experiencing a notable increase in demand for inpatient services following the Thanksgiving holiday. This is similar to the surge we saw following previous holidays, such as the 4th of July and Labor Day. We urge the community to be mindful of this fact as we head toward the Christmas season, New Year’s and as colder weather forces people indoors. Holiday gatherings and in-person events of more than 10 people significantly increase the likelihood of transmission of the virus and will likely further stress the area’s health care systems.

As is the case with many larger hospital systems in our state, Washington Regional Medical Center has the ability to expand its capacity where community demand dictates a need for additional resources. The challenge with expanding bed capacity is that it further requires the ability to expand or redirect existing nursing and physician staffing to cover those additional beds. The intensity of staffing in critical care and COVID-19 units is much greater than the staffing needs of a typical medical surgical unit.

In anticipation of the potential for an increase in demand for hospital services, effective December 11, Washington Regional will operationalize the next phase of its COVID-19 surge plan. This phase of our surge plan will allow us to schedule additional human resources by shifting some members of our staff to assist in areas of most critical need. To maximize our nursing and related personnel we must necessarily review our non-urgent surgery schedules and outpatient clinic appointments. Should this impact existing patient appointments, procedures or cases, patients will personally be contacted.

To keep our hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, we ask the community to follow the simple public health measures that have been recommended and stressed since spring: wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance and avoid large gatherings, especially as we head into the Christmas and New Year’s holiday season.