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On March 11, I signed an executive order that declared a public health emergency in Arkansas, and every day since has brought new challenges in our efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Today I’d like to talk about the initiatives we launched this week to assist rural hospitals and to provide extra pay for non-physician direct-care workers who are on the front lines treating COVID-19 patients.
We have requested a waiver of Medicaid regulations to accomplish our goals, which we estimate will cost $116 million. The state’s share is much less than that and will be about $25 million.
COVID-19 has changed our world in ways we never imagined a month ago. We can’t deliver health care today the way we did just two weeks ago. The leaders at hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, nursing homes, and in-home health care providers are having to rethink everything they do, and they are having to do it very quickly and without a road map. We want to help health care providers keep their doors open and their staff employed.
This plan places a particular emphasis on Arkansas’s rural providers, who face even greater challenges because of their location and limited infrastructure.
This initiative is designed for the COVID-19 crisis, but the benefits will remain long after we have moved past this.
We will provide financial assistance to hospitals with fewer than 65 beds and clinics that don’t have the capital to adapt their facilities to the new way of delivering health care. Some may need to modify a facility to add drive-through testing. Others may need to reconfigure patient intake areas to allow for adequate social distancing.
To provide safe face-to-face service, clinics may need to extend hours or stagger schedules to separate sick patients from those who aren’t.
We will provide assistance to expand and upgrade telemedicine so that doctors can treat patients from their homes, and we will fund telemedicine training.
We will provide funding to companies that provide non-emergency transportation. During this period when fewer people need transportation to a doctor’s appointment, these companies can offer services such as prescription delivery.
DHS Secretary Cindy Gillespie and her team worked tirelessly to put together this innovative plan. In this moment of crisis, DHS has crafted a solid short-term solution with long-term benefits.