Arkansas Children’s CEO: Staffing, ICU space biggest worries for handling COVID patients

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 1,832 views 

Arkansas Children’s CEO Marcy Doderer says staffing challenges and ICU resources are the biggest challenges to treating the surge in COVID-19 patients, particularly those under the age of 12, who are not eligible for vaccines. Three children have died from COVID-19 and more could be in harm’s way as the Delta variant of the disease has been more prevalent in younger populations.

Doderer, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics said federal money exists to expand bed space, but it is of little use without the personnel to monitor and treat sick patients.

“If you spoke to any hospital CEO in the state of Arkansas, it [staffing] is probably one of their number one concerns. We are facing a global nursing crisis in terms of shortage of workforce. I saw a statistic this week published by the Arkansas Hospital Association, something like 130,000 vacant nursing positions across the country. So staffing is a big one,” she said.

“The other thing that we assess really throughout the course of the day are, any kinds of procedures that will require ICU stay. So an admission coming tomorrow that is expected post-surgery to be in our ICU, our ICU team, our chief medical officer, our surgical team are in close communication to ensure that we’ll have the bed availability that we need when the child comes out of surgery,” Doderer added. “And then we evaluate any request to transfer patients into our facility, just to make sure we can take care of the kids already in our ED, the kids coming from Northwest Arkansas facility to here, and then those coming from other places.”

With nearly 400,000 Arkansas school children set to return to K-12 campuses this week, health experts are predicting a rise in cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19, if not future variants. Arkansas’ vaccination rate ranks among the worst states in the union, and while mask mandates have been put in place in over 70 school districts, there are still scores with no policy to curtail the virus’s spread.

Doderer said plans and funding are in place to add more beds at her hospital and at Baptist Health – as many as 156 more beds – but the limiting factor is staffing.

“We’re all really pushing our teams to their limits at times, with no ready supply of extra staff, our teams are working extra shifts themselves,” she said.

Vaccines are the key to bringing COVID-19 under control, Doderer contends. Overcoming vaccine hesitancy has been a huge hurdle and the consequence has been spending millions of dollars on bed space expansion and extra personnel, not to mention the rising death toll. Arkansas has eclipsed 6,400 deaths from the killer virus.

“I think it’s a bit of a political tight rope right now, I’m being very frank. We in healthcare have complete trust in our physician and our scientists in this country, and so we believe in the science behind the vaccine and are advocating heavily that anyone who is eligible should get vaccinated,” Doderer said. “We are supportive of the vaccine companies continuing their clinical trials to lower that age to five, and remain hopeful that good news will come late in the fall or early winter that the vaccine will be applicable to children down to the age of five. I hope someday it’s just a routine part of our vaccination stance.”

“We have not gone public with any kind of cost-benefit analysis that says, here’s the cost of vaccinating versus the cost of redoing this facility, I think mainly because at the end of the day, we are here to take care of sick people,” she said.

You can watch Doderer’s full interview in the video below.