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story.lead_photo.caption An empty patient room, Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2018, at the at Washington Regional Medical Center campus in Fayetteville. (NWA Democrat-Gazette File Photo/ANDY SHUPE) - Photo by Andy Shupe

FAYETTEVILLE -- Northwest Arkansas hospitals are beginning to implement plans to accommodate more covid-19 patients.

Hospitals in Benton and Washington counties had 127 patients in their covid-19 units as of Wednesday, according to the statement via Martine Pollard, spokeswoman at Mercy Health System. The region hit a record high of 128 on Monday.

"We have already enacted Phase 1 of our covid-19 surge plan, which means we are scheduling additional human resources by shifting some members of our staff to assist in areas of most critical need," according to Natalie Hardin, spokeswoman at Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville.

"If needed, we will move to Phase 2 of our surge plan which means we will pause/reschedule some elective procedures," according to Hardin.

The region's health care organizations with the largest hospitals -- Mercy, Washington Regional, and Northwest Health -- have a combined total of 134 beds designated for covid-19 patients. Washington Regional has 54, Mercy has 56, and Northwest Health has 24 beds.

A representative for Veterans Health Care System of the Ozarks wouldn't say how many beds the hospital has designated for covid-19 patients.

Children's Northwest, which treats patients up to 21 years old, doesn't have beds designated for covid-19 patients. However, any patient who has the virus is in a room with a negative pressure system as a protective measure, according to Hilary DeMillo, spokeswoman. Most Children's patients who have tested positive for the virus were in the hospital for unrelated reasons.

Representatives from the region's hospitals have said the struggle of caring for an influx of patients is not so much having enough physical space to add beds as it is having enough staff to care for the patients.

"Mercy does have travel nurses working on site to support our Mercy Hospital co-workers, and we anticipate the likely need for additional staff support. We are utilizing some clinic nurses to support care in the hospital. These nurses had recently transitioned to clinic positions and had not been out of inpatient care very long," according to Jennifer Cook, spokeswoman for Mercy Northwest Arkansas in Rogers.

Larry Shackleford, Washington Regional president, said "While it is disappointing, we anticipated we'd likely see an increase of covid-19 patient hospitalizations following the holidays."

"As we start this new year, we must hold on to the hope that with the covid-19 vaccine the end may finally be in sight, while continuing to practice the public health guidelines that have been in place since spring 2020: wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance and avoid gatherings," he continued.

Hospitals are continuing to vaccinate their staff members against the virus. Hospitals received their first shipments of the Pfizer vaccines in December. The vaccine requires a second dose, which is the same as the first, 21 days after the first dose. The Moderna vaccine, which is being distributed to residents and staff at long-term care facilities, requires a second dose 28 days after the first one.

Northwest Health has received more than 3,300 vaccine doses and administered about 1,600 to frontline workers including physicians and staff members, according to Christina Bull, spokeswoman for Northwest Health. Northwest began administering the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine to some staff members Monday.

Washington Regional has received 3,900 doses of the vaccine, including 2,925 designated for first doses and 975 reserved for second doses, according to Hardin. Washington Regional had administered first doses to 1,954 individuals as of Tuesday and planned to begin administering second doses on Wednesday. The hospital expects to receive weekly shipments of the vaccine both for first and second doses.

Mercy had given about 1,900 people their first doses as of Tuesday and began administering second doses of the vaccine this week, according to Cook.

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The numbers

Washington County had 2,136 active cases of covid-19 as of Wednesday. Benton County had 2,226 active cases.

Source: Arkansas Department of Health

Alex Golden may be reached by email at [email protected]

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