Most of Columbia County’s surge in COVID-19 cases is the result of an outbreak at The Springs, a nursing home on Dudney Road formerly known as Magnolia Health and Rehabilitation.
On Wednesday, the Arkansas Department of Health reported through its website that for the second time since the pandemic reached South Arkansas, Columbia County was “under water” with more active COVID-19 cases than recoveries.
One week ago, Columbia County had recorded 29 positive cases since the start of the pandemic. Of those, 7 cases were active and 20 victims had recovered.
Wednesday’s figures indicated that Columbia County has had 72 COVID-19 cases since April. Of those, 44 are presently active and 25 people have recovered.
Columbia County’s number began climbing over the weekend as test results started coming in from The Springs following a state requirement that all nursing homes residents and staff be tested for the virus that has killed 240 people statewide, including three in Columbia County.
The county’s first case surge was in late April, tied to an outbreak at Summit Health nursing home in Taylor. At that time, two Summit patients died and the county had a total of 12 positive cases.
Rachel Bunch, executive director of the Arkansas Health Care Association, has been acting as a spokesperson for Arkansas nursing homes during the COVID-19 crisis.
"I have been in communication with our member facility in Magnolia, The Springs of Magnolia. There has been a total of 27 cases reported. We've had 19 residents and six staff members test positive for COVID-19,” she said.
“The facility has been in communication with the Arkansas Department of Health and is currently following guidance on testing and quarantine for those who may have been in contact with infected individuals.”
Bunch said several Springs of Magnolia residents who have tested positive have received their first negative test.
“(The Springs) will be working closely with ADH on guidelines for testing and recovery. Employees who have tested positive will not return to work until they are cleared by ADH,” Bunch said.
CLICK HERE to see The Springs page on Facebook, which is licensed by the Arkansas Department of Human Services as a 140-bed facility. According to Columbia County tax records, it is owned by CHP Magnolia Healthcare Owner LLC, a part of the CNL Financial Group of Orlando, FL.
Dr. Nathaniel Smith, secretary of the ADH, said during Wednesday’s daily COVID-19 press briefing that the state would put more resources into two recent outbreaks – the Springs at Magnolia, and the Ouachita River Unit of the Arkansas Department of Correction in Malvern.
However, Smith didn’t specify what those resources might be, such as assigning more contact tracing personnel to the area. The ADH was unable to provide additional details on Wednesday night.
Public concerns about the doubling of active COVID-19 cases in Columbia County also focuses attention on the ability of Magnolia Regional Medical Center to handle any increased demand to test for the virus, and to treat serious cases.
Health authorities have noted since the beginning of the pandemic that people should not simply show up at hospitals and expect to receive tests.
“Any patient who suspects they may have COVID symptoms, or a possible exposure, should reach out their primary care provider. Several of the clinics in town have the capabilities to test in their clinics,” said Karen Weido, spokeswomen for Magnolia Regional Medical Center.
“Should the provider determine the patient needs to come to MRMC for a COVID test, the provider will instruct the patient on how to proceed when they arrive at the hospital. Upon arrival to the hospital, the patient should call remain in their vehicle and call MRMC registration at 235-3000. Registration will be conducted via phone, and hospital personnel will come to the vehicle to complete necessary testing,” Weido said.
The pandemic has not placed an unusual burden on MRMC staffing, she said.
“While it is possible to test MRMC staff at any time, we are currently electing to only test symptomatic employees or those who may have a high-risk exposure. We have had no MRMC staff with a positive COVID test,” Weido said.
MRMC is able to handle its current patient count, including treating COVID-19 patients at its intensive care unit.
“If there is a major influx of patients, it will be problematic. We are currently able to handle the patient load,” she said.
MRMC believes its screening process is adequate for staff and patients, and does not plan to make changes. This process has been discussed and approved by the MRMC medical staff, Weido said.
MRMC is under no restrictions for conducting elective or emergency surgeries.
“The Arkansas Department of Health has always had an exception in place for hospitals under 50 beds to allow elective surgeries, and we are following their guidelines. Any surgery patients are screened for risk factors and determinations are made based on that information,” Weido said.