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Fort Smith hospital COVID levels return to June highs

John Lovett
jlovett@swtimes.com
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, seen at the U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith on June 18, 2020. The number of hospital patients suffering from the COVID-19 coronavirus at Mercy Fort Smith is back up to the early June 2020 peak and the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state is at an all-time, single-day high, Huthchinson stated Monday.

The number of hospital patients suffering from the COVID-19 coronavirus at Mercy Fort Smith is back up to a summertime peak and the number of COVID-19 deaths in the state is at an all-time, single-day high.

Sebastian County had the fourth highest number of new cases in the state Monday with 64 new cases.

Mercy Fort Smith currently is near its maximum capacity in the COVID Intensive Care Unit. The hospital on Rogers Avenue has 13 isolation rooms available in the ICU as well as 44 other beds available for medical surgery.

As reported last week by The Associated Press, Gov. Asa Hutchinson will be looking at hospitalization numbers to determine if more COVID restrictions will be put in place.

“The only thing that will trigger anything is that if we don’t have any hospital space to deal with," Hutchinson said in a discussion Nov. 12 with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and the Arkansas Municipal League broadcast live on Facebook. “Then you have to start making some very, very difficult decisions that you don’t want to have to make."

As of 11 a.m. Monday, Mercy Fort Smith had 12 COVID patients in the ICU and 26 others hospitalized in COVID units. The last time the hospital saw COVID hospitalizations this high was early June, a Mercy spokesperson noted.

Numbers for Baptist Health Fort Smith and Van Buren were not available by 7:30 p.m. Monday. Baptist has an ICU for COVID cases and a non-ICU COVID floor.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s daily Arkansas COVID-19 response updated noted the Arkansas Department of Health reported 1,308 new cases on Monday: 16,485 active cases; 861 hospitalized, which is up 31 from Sunday; 123 on ventilators, which is up seven from Sunday; deaths added Monday were 42, for a total of 2,225.

The Health Department reported that the top counties for new cases are Washington, 161; Pulaski, 130; Benton, 70; Sebastian, 64; and Craighead, 63.

“The new cases are higher than last Monday, and this may be an indication we are in for a tough week ahead,” Hutchinson stated. “The 42 new deaths is regrettably an all-time high in a single day. While there is good news on the vaccine front this morning, we have to work together to reduce cases, hospitalizations and save lives.”

Mercy Fort Smith Hospital President Ryan Gehrig is among 19-member Winter COVID-19 Task Force created last week.

"It's an extreme honor to be chosen to work with Governor Hutchinson's task force,“ Gehrig stated in a news release. ”I look forward to meeting with the group as we work toward solutions to containing COVID-19 as we head into the winter months. As always, keeping the residents of Arkansas safe and healthy is our No. 1 goal, and I look forward to working with health care leaders from throughout the state to come up with ways to achieve this goal."

Hutchinson will serve as chair of the task force. Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe will serve as vice chair. The other members of the COVID-19 Winter Task Force are:

• Larry Shackelford, president and CEO of Washington Regional Medical Center

• Chris Barber, President and CEO of St. Bernard’s Healthcare

• Scott Street, CEO of Medical Center of South Arkansas

• Dr. Cam Patterson, Chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences

• Rachel Bunch, Executive Director of Arkansas Health Care Association

• Bo Ryall, President and CEO of Arkansas Hospital Association

• Troy Wells, President and CEO of Baptist Health

• Ryan Gehrig, President of Mercy Hospital, Fort Smith;

• Major General Kendall Penn, Adjutant General, Arkansas National Guar

•. A.J. Gary, Director of Arkansas Department of Emergency Management

• Dr. José Romero, Secretary of Arkansas Department of Health

•. Dr. Jerrilyn Jones, Arkansas Department of Health

• Dr. Jennifer Dillaha, Arkansas Department of Health

• Dr. Naveen Patil, Arkansas Department of Health

• Dr. Keyur Vyas, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences;

• Phillip Gilmore, CEO of Ashley County Medical Center;

• Dr. Steven Collier, CEO of ARcare;

• Ron Peterson, President and CEO of Baxter County Regional Medical Center; and

• Additional citizens as the Governor deems necessary.