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LITTLE ROCK — Amid the report of an increase of 55 positive COVID-19 cases in the state and a third death from the disease, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said some hospitals and healthcare workers will be getting a financial boost.

State Health Secretary Dr. Nate Smith said the third death was also in central Arkansas, but he declined to name an exact location.

Of the total 335 cases reported as of 3 p.m. Thursday, 14 were children 18 and younger, 213 were ages 19-64 and the other 108 were people 65 or older. About 15% of those patients are African American, 80% are white and the remaining 5% were classified as “other.”

Smith said 41 of those patients were hospitalized, a significant increase from the 12 he reported Wednesday. Part of that increase was due to a difference in the way information is being collected from hospitals. The number of patients on a ventilator also rose from four Wednesday to 13 Thursday, but he said the methodology of getting information from hospitals had changed in that category as well.

Smith went on to say that 13 people have met the criteria the state deems as “recovered.” Those patients who have recovered are being asked if they would donate plasma for other patients.

“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.

Hutchinson said a new initiative will address the changing ways healthcare is being provided specifically with the coronavirus emergency.

“This plan will provide improved access to care for Arkansas citizens and will keep the doors of Arkansas’ healthcare providers open and their workforce employed,” the governor said.

One point calls for $15 million in capital improvement payments to certain hospitals, independent physicians, rural health clinics and behavioral health agencies for “environmental modifications.” That could include drive-through testing sites and isolation areas, as well as other needs for this emergency.

Another point calls for $16 million to be used for workforce safety and training for service providers who have to continue face-to-face healthcare services. The payment is flexible to meet the needs of providers.

A third point is $19 million for expansion of telemedicine and non-emergency transportation to keep patients connected to medical care.

The fourth point is additional payments to support nurses. It equates to an additional $1,000 a month or $250 a week for non-physician direct care workers — primarily nurses — and $2,000 a month for nurses treating COVID-19 patients.

There will also be payments to nursing facilities that care for a disproportionately high percentage of COVID-19 patients.

The governor went on to list more initiatives within the plan, but he said he mentioned the first five areas as the high points.

The total cost of the plan is about $116 million. However, all but about but $25 million of that will come from federal aid to states through the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The remainder will be adjusted from other federal Medicaid dollars and won’t be general revenue.

He said the plan will be in effect during the emergency, but it will also have lasting benefit and accomplish lasting changes in Arkansas’ healthcare industry.

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