Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and individual healthcare workers can expect a total of $116.3 million in payments to help with screening and care of coronavirus patients.
Hutchinson announced the funds Thursday at the State Capitol, saying a third person in the state has died from COVID-19 as the total number of cases in Arkansas rises to 335. As of 5 p.m. Thursday, that number had risen to 349.
Hutchinson said the influx of funding is geared specifically toward addressing the coronavirus pandemic, but will have lasting effects on the state's healthcare system.
"This plan will provide improved access to care for Arkansas citizens, and will keep the doors of Arkansas's healthcare providers open and their work force employed. Healthcare today cannot be delivered just like it was two weeks ago," Hutchinson said.
The largest single allocation from the funding initiative is $55 million in payments to non-physician direct care workers, primarily nurses. Hutchinson said those workers will receive $250 per week, with $500 per week going toward those who work at a facility treating COVID-19 patients.
Other payments go toward smaller clinics and hospitals for capital improvements, with just over $30 million going toward "environmental modifications" for community providers and hospitals with fewer than 65 beds. $3 million will also go toward nursing facilities that have seen a disproportionate share of COVID-19 patients.
Department of Human Services Secretary Cindy Gillespie said those payments would primarily go to rural healthcare providers that have had to make significant changes to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. She also announced $500 per month to go toward foster parents in the state, with $1.5 million of the plan allocated for that purpose.
$19 million will go toward safety training and expanding telemedicine in Arkansas, $5 million to provide housing for the homeless, and $1.4 million toward COVID-19 screening and testing for uninsured patients.
Hutchinson said he's seeking approval from the federal government to pay for all but $25 million of the total $116.3 million price tag, with the rest paid for by state Medicaid dollars.
Lonoke and Randolph counties added their first cases of COVID-19 Thursday. State Department of Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said a nursing home in White Hall has seen one positive case as well, bringing the total number of staff and patients at nursing homes testing positive to 42.
Smith said, out of 335 positive cases, 14 are children, 108 are over 65 years of age, and 213 are between the ages of 19 and 64. 41 people are hospitalized as of Thursday, with 13 on mechanical ventilation.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson said his institution has made numerous purchases of personal protective equipment, with the first shipments set to arrive over the weekend. He said UAMS has ordered 3 million N95 respirators, 4 million surgical face masks, 4 million disposable gowns, 2.1 million face shields and 7 million pairs of gloves.
Smith says 13 people in the state have met the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria for recovery from COVID-19, and asked those who have recovered to donate blood plasma.
"One of the more promising approaches to treating critically ill patients with COVID-19 is to give them plasma from those who have recovered because it has antibodies that can fight the virus," Smith said. "Obviously the plasma has to be processed and tested so that it's safe to give, but that's a promising strategy and hopefully as we have more who are recovered some of them hopefully will volunteer."