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St. Bernards OK'd for home hospital plan

JONESBORO — St. Bernards Medical Center will soon roll out a new program designed to allow patients hospital-level care from the comfort of their homes.

Media relations manager Mitchell Nail said patients who are approved for the program will be treated at home.

“Patients will not have a nurse sitting with them for 24 hours a day, (just like an acute care hospital), but they will have a physician in charge of their care,” he said.

Kevin Hodges, St. Bernards Healthcare senior vice president of administrative services, said the at-home care currently is only available to Medicare and Medicaid patients.

“When this program came out in November, we thought it was something we could manage,” he said. “We applied and were granted.”

Hodges said the original program was called Hospitals without Walls.

“It came out in March 2020 and allowed hospitals the flexibility to provide services beyond their existing walls,” he said.

St. Bernards Medical Center has named its program AcuteHealth at Home.

Although the hospital is approved for the waiver program, Hodges said it will still be several weeks before the actual rollout of the program begins. He said it’s also working on making sure the same equipment and staff are available that would be accessible in a hospital setting.

“Some will be on-site, some in-home and some by telemedicine,” Hodges said. “We need durable medical equipment and oxygen. ... We need to make sure all our hot spots are working (because) not everyone has access to the internet.”

Hodges said the program will be targeting those patients whose diagnoses can be managed safely in the home. It doesn’t limit the number of patients who will be accepted.

“Physicians will be doing assessments and if it is a COVID-19 patient we can take care of in the home, then we will do that,” he said. “We envision a person who has been diagnosed with pneumonia – they would have to have IV therapy and respiratory therapy.”

Hodges said it is not a way to ration health care. Nail said what he has seen in the medical field during the pandemic is an acceleration of programs the hospital had either recently implemented or had been considering.

“We have been evaluating hospital-level in-home care for years,” he said. “Europe has been doing hospital in-home care for years. ... We started the telehealth before the pandemic hit and then it blossomed out of a need for us to use it.”

Nail said St. Bernards is doing OK as far as hospital bed capacity. He said a surge plan was put into place at the beginning of the pandemic to dictate how the hospital would handle the increased demand for ICU beds if COVID-19 cases climbed beyond its capacity.

“But we have had to look at creative ways to meet the census numbers,” he said. “We have not had to increase ICU capacity for quite some time.”

NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital has also created alternative ways to handle patients during the pandemic utilizing two programs.

Marketing director Ty Jones said the Jonesboro hospital has not applied for the federal waiver program. It does have a program that includes home visits to patients, he said.

“We are monitoring as the administration continues to meet about the need and feasibility of the program,” he said. “We also have care coordinators that actually contact those patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.”

If a higher level of care is needed, Jones said the hospital wants to make sure they stay in communication with those patients. NEA Baptist Memorial’s Population Health department oversees the at-home visits, Jones said.

“The Virtual COVID-19 follow-up clinic is monitoring COVID-19 patients,” he added.

Career coaches guide students amid pandemic

JONESBORO — Austin Copenhaver, a career coach at Jonesboro High School’s Business, Communication Arts and Law Academy, said students are facing an uncertain future.

“Right now, the students think every week coming up is uncertain,” he said.

In an ever-changing educational environment, which can pivot from in-person to virtual learning with short notice, both Jonesboro Public School’s administration and career coaches are doing their best to encourage students to pursue their goals for the future.

Chris Cross, JHS college career coach, said this year is a lot different.

“Last year we had the opportunity to talk to students face to face,” he said. “This year we are using online forums like Zoom, and PowToon, which is a virtual cartoon presentation to get the word out to students about services,” Cross said.

Students are hesitant to go to school right now in the face of the pandemic, Cross said.

“I am trying to remind them that yes, they may not get the full experience right now,” he said. “I am encouraging them to start their first year at a two-year school to get their basic courses. They can always transfer and hopefully COVID-19 won’t be here then.”

Other challenges students are facing in addition to the uncertainty of the future, is that they have to do everything virtually.

“I usually encourage students to go on college campus tours and to sign up for internships,” he said. “This year those who normally partner with us on the internships are not accommodating students because of COVID-19.”

Copenhaver said he is encouraging students to look at alternatives.

“Colleges are all switching to virtual tours,” he said.

Dr. Jeff Flanigan, JHS Stem Academy principal, said the school is also setting up alternatives to the internships that normally occur this time of year.

“We are doing virtual internships, virtual meet and greets, and virtual question and answer sessions,” he said.

While none of these virtual options are as good as the in-person experiences students normally receive, Flanigan said the school is doing its best to accommodate the needs of future graduates.

If he has seen any positives in education this year, Flanigan said it would be the increased communication between staff and parents.

“The interaction with parents has increased, as we have been educating students in their homes,” he said. “It has been a lot easier to communicate with parents and I hope that never changes.”

Krisselle Nwokeji, an 11th-grade student at the JHS Health and Human Services Academy, said she has seen some positives emerge from the pandemic.

“It has allowed us to become more independent and learn to do things on our own,” she said.

Nwokeji said her biggest concern is taking the ACT and scoring high enough to gain entry to the college of her choice.

“I want to pursue the medical field,” she said, noting she has not yet decided between being a surgeon or a pediatrician. Nwokeji has been more fortunate than some students and has been able to do an internship.

“My father is a pediatrician here in town, and I go work in his office,” she said.

Flanigan said students have a ridiculous resiliency.

“That is a quote,” he said. “I have been both pleased and amazed at students’ lack of complaining. Students like Krisselle will not be deterred from being a doctor. If anything the pandemic has spurred her on.”

Flanigan went on to say the pandemic has also spurred the natural curiosity of this generation.

“There is a need for creativity so we can find a way to do the same things (we have always done) yet differently,” he said.

City seeks bids for addition to Veterans Village

JONESBORO — With the announcement of a new grant, the City of Jonesboro has begun advertising for bids for construction of the final major element of Veterans Village on Aggie Road.

The city will open bids at 2 p.m. Jan. 28 for construction of the community building, which will house essential support services provided by the Arkansas State University Beck Center for Veterans.

Seven standalone 550-square-foot one-bedroom hoses and two 950-square-foot two-bedroom houses are under construction.

That part of the work, scheduled for completion in March, is funded largely by a $1,058,925 grant from the National Housing Trust Fund, administered in Arkansas by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority. The grant covers the cost of the purchase of land and most of the cost of construction of the houses. Olympus Construction of Jonesboro is the general contractor.

The private Sunderland Foundation of Kansas provided $100,000 in October for the community building, and Mayor Harold Copenhaver announced Monday that the Arkansas attorney general’s office will provide another $250,000 in taxpayer funds for the project.

Arkansas has 230,000 veterans, including more than 6,000 in Craighead County. It’s estimated that more than 500 are homeless throughout the state.

Inspired by a project in Kansas City, Mo., then-Mayor Harold Perrin began a campaign to raise funds for this facility.

Jonesboro’s Veterans Village is Arkansas’ first neighborhood providing housing and resources for homeless veterans.

Virus surge evident last week

JONESBORO — The post-holiday surge started to become evident last week, as the daily average number of new coronavirus cases rose for the first time in more than a month.

Based on daily reports from the Arkansas Department of Health, Craighead County had an average of 71.6 confirmed new cases per day between Jan. 4 and Sunday, which is an increase from 52.4 the previous week. The daily average of confirmed cases peaked at 89 shortly after Thanksgiving. The daily average of probable infections, positive tests from the quicker, but less accurate antigen tests, grew even faster last week, from 11.6 to 29.1.

In Greene County, the daily average rose from 24.6 confirmed cases per day to 34.4 per day during the past week. Probable cases remained at 4.7 per day.

During that seven-day period, six more people died in Greene County and there were four deaths in Craighead and Jackson counties. Clay County had three deaths, Lawrence and Mississippi counties, two, and one in Poinsett County.

On Monday, the health department reported 1,029 new confirmed and 689 probable cases of the virus, and a total of 38 new deaths, including two in Poinsett County and one each in Lawrence, Mississippi, Randolph and Clay counties.

The number of people hospitalized as a result of the virus rose to 1,371, 31 more than on Sunday. Of those 441 were in intensive care units and 319 were on ventilators, also up by 31. In Northeast Arkansas, 185 were hospitalized, up two; 44 were in ICUs, up four; and 26 were on ventilators, also up four.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a press release that “Today’s report of 31 additional hospitalizations will add to the load of our health care workers. The better news is the new cases are starting to slow somewhat. Let’s work toward a true downward trend.”

Northeast Arkansas COVID-19 cases by county through Monday:

Craighead – 9,799 confirmed (up 43 since Sunday), 1,261 probable (down 2), 904 active cases (down 66); 132 confirmed deaths, 14 probable.

Greene – 3,940 confirmed (up 13), 943 probable (unchanged); 398 active (down 32); 49 confirmed deaths, 10 probable.

Lawrence – 1,428 confirmed (up 7), 301 probable (down 1); 132 active (down 15); 36 confirmed deaths, 3 probable.

Poinsett – 2,340 confirmed (up 3), 283 probable (up 2); 211 active (down 23); 53 confirmed deaths, 13 probable.

Mississippi – 4,282 confirmed (up 22), 459 probable (unchanged); 293 active cases (down 17); 85 confirmed deaths, 15 probable.

Jackson – 2,330 confirmed (up 2), 613 probable (up 7); 90 active cases (down 30); 20 confirmed deaths, 6 probable.

Randolph – 1,285 confirmed (up 7), 345 probable (unchanged); 143 active cases (down 22); 32 confirmed deaths, 11 probable.

Cross – 1,285 confirmed (up 5), 320 probable (up 1); 176 active cases (down 20); 35 confirmed deaths (unchanged), 2 probable, unchanged).

Clay – 1,102 confirmed (up 3), 323 probable (unchanged); 110 active cases (down 8); 26 confirmed deaths, 10 probable.

Pandemic delays trials through February

JONESBORO — Justice is delayed for Northeast Arkansas families as a state Supreme Court decision delays jury trials due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

A November 2020 order previously suspended jury trials through Friday. Court docket entries show that at least eight Craighead County murder suspects were set to stand trial in early February.

To “help protect the public from unnecessary risks,” the Supreme Court of Arkansas delivered an opinion last week to continue the suspension of pending jury trials through Feb. 28. Trials that were ongoing as of Jan. 5 should be completed, the order read.

“Public health officials in Arkansas have identified an increase of COVID-19 positive tests and hospitalizations,” the document states. “This order is to be interpreted broadly for protection of the public from the risks associated with COVID-19. This order applies statewide to all courts and court clerks’ offices except administration courts of the executive branch, federal courts and federal court clerks’ offices.”

In lock step with the justices, Craighead County District Court officials have rescheduled several appearances “out an abundance of caution,” citing the area’s increased cases of COVID-19.

Between Dec. 26 and Saturday, 17.2 percent of COVID-19 test specimens were positive for the virus, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. Most of the new cases confirmed Sunday were contracted in the community, an ADH update read.

Craighead County District Court’s latest round of rescheduled court dates were announced Friday.

Appearances set 9 a.m. in Jonesboro have been rescheduled to the following dates: today and Jan. 26 to April 20; Wednesday and Jan. 27 to March 15; Jan. 19 to March 16, Jan. 20 to March 17 and Jan. 25 to May 17.

First appearances scheduled at 1 p.m. in Jonesboro are being continued to the following dates: today and Wednesday to May 17-18; Jan. 19-20 to June 1-2; and Jan. 25-27 to June 7-9.

Court appearances scheduled for 9:30 a.m. in Lake City have been rescheduled to the following dates: Thursday to April 22, Jan. 21 to April 29 and Jan. 28 to May 6.

Probable cause hearings for inmates and civil/small claims matters will be conducted at their regularly scheduled dates and times. To inquire about a case or sign up for a payment plan, contact the court clerk at district@craigheadcounty.org.

To avoid long waiting periods at the drive-thru window at 410 W. Washington Ave. in Jonesboro, visit caseinfo.arcourts.gov for case information and pay.arcourts.gov for payment information.