Hotlines set up for COVID-19 questions, Baptist Health and Mercy limit visitation

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,697 views 

Fort Smith metro residents with questions about the COVID-19 pandemic can call Baptist Health’s free hotline at (479) 709-6845 for information. A separate regional hotline may be available as early as Thursday.

The Baptist Health hotline is staffed by nurses from Baptist Health affiliated clinics from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday. It is aimed at helping residents understand conditions and receive direction on next steps for care.

“People who feel they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and are showing symptoms should avoid coming to the hospital or a physician’s office, if at all possible. If someone is in need of immediate medical attention and suspects COVID-19 exposure, they should notify their provider or the 9-1-1 operator and let them know the situation before visiting any facility,” a media release said.

Mardi Taylor, senior media relations & communications specialist for Mercy Fort Smith, said Mercy Fort Smith and Baptist Health-Fort Smith are working with Sebastian County and the city of Fort Smith to establish a hotline that will connect the caller with someone trained to ask specific questions, screen for possible issues and instruct the caller on what else they need to do. That hotline phone number will be released soon and should be ready for residents Thursday (March 19), Taylor said.

Both hospitals have enacted visitation restrictions in order to safeguard patients and employees. Mercy’s Arkansas hospitals have limited access to one visitor per Mercy patient. Two visitors will be allowed at a time in the pediatric unit and in labor & delivery. Visitors will be allowed in Mercy hospitals from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Visitors must be 15 or older and fever and cough free.

In Fort Smith, visitors will be able to enter the hospital through the medical building or main entrance. At Mercy hospital locations in Booneville, Ozark, Paris and Waldron, visitors may enter through the ER only. Also, everyone entering a Mercy clinic will be screened. Mercy Fort Smith is working to “tweak” restrictions for labor and delivery, Taylor said, noting all changes will be posted on the hospital’s Facebook page.

“Our ER is open always,” she said.

Baptist Health Fort Smith changed visitor restriction effective Wednesday (March 18) to allow only one visitor per day to visit patients who are not on special isolation precautions, with the exception of labor and delivery and postpartum. In labor and delivery and postpartum, two visitors are allowed per day. The NICU will limit visitors to two visitors daily as well, parents, a media release said.

The release noted that visitors should “come and stay rather than making multiple trips in order to decrease traffic through the hospital.” Visitors should stay in patients rooms at all times, including in critical care, surgical services and procedural areas.

“Patients who are on special isolation in any care setting will not be allowed in-person visitors, but coordination will be made with patients and their families to address communication via other means including phone calls and video messaging,” the release said.

Children under the age of 15 are not allowed to visit Baptist Health’s medical centers, though care will continue for patients of all ages. Normal visitation hours will be 6:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Overnight guests must stay in the patient’s room and not leave the hospital from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. All common areas such as public waiting areas and hospital cafeterias remain closed.

The Baptist Health Urgent Care location at 7600 Rogers Ave. in Fort Smith can evaluate patients who may be concerned about COVID-19. The urgent care center offers online scheduling before arrival.

As of Wednesday, there were 33 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Arkansas. No cases have been confirmed in Sebastian County, according to the Arkansas Department of Health.