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Northwest Arkansas health care community concerned about testing demands

New testing priorities have been announced due to the overwhelming number of coronavirus tests needed in Northwest Arkansas.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — As testing for the coronavirus (COVID-19) ramps up across Arkansas, the health care community in Northwest Arkansas is concerned about access to testing supplies from the national supply chain. 

“There is a real concern in the health care community that the current demand for testing will exceed our capacity and impact our ability to provide timely test results needed to provide critical care services for those patients with acute health issues. That goes for both our adult and pediatric populations,” said Larry Shackelford, CEO Washington Regional Medical Center (WRMC).

The increasing number of patients at the region's COVID-19 units, and heightened testing needs, is a major concern among health care officials. Each test requires personal protective equipment (PPE), swabs and testing supplies. Northwest Arkansas health care leaders are concerned the region won't be able to keep up with the surge of people becoming ill from the virus. 

Due to these concerns, the NWA health care community has aligned with new testing priorities. Testing criteria is as follows:

  • Symptomatic individuals (cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or two of the following: fever, chills, muscle aches, sore throat, headache, new taste or smell disorder or quick variation in temperature).
  • Household contacts of confirmed positive COVID-19 individuals (small children are not encouraged to be tested unless they are symptomatic).
  • Asymptomatic health care workers with exposure or possible exposure.
  • Any individual by request of Arkansas Department of Health for exposure.
  • Pre-operative – having surgical procedures, including scheduled induction and C-section, and pulmonary function testing.

"We are beginning to see the effects of the strain on the lab system's ability to report results in a timely manner,” said Judd Semingson, CEO of Community Clinic. “While we previously expanded additional testing, appropriate patient care remains our focus. Delayed test results could have negative impacts on these efforts. We want to ensure testing is available to those who need it, while sustaining the resources which are currently available."

Medical supply and lab service companies serving Northwest Arkansas have similar concerns.

“Due to factors beyond our control, we are concerned there is an unreliable supply chain for testing reagent that will not meet our current local testing demand,” said Dr. Lucas Campbell, president of NWA Pathology Associates.

Recently Quest Diagnostics, the commercial lab that provides the majority of screen center tests in Northwest Arkansas, stated its systems are overwhelmed, and it would only be able to deliver test results in one day for hospitalized patients, patients facing emergency surgery and symptomatic health care workers. Others can expect their test results in three to five days. The demand for testing has grown by 50% in the last three weeks. 

“To ensure we are monitoring adequate PPE, supplies and resources, we must be good stewards,” said Eric Pianalto, president of Mercy Hospital Northwest Arkansas. “While we wish we could test everyone, unfortunately, that is not realistic or wise for our community until we have ample testing supplies.”

You can find testing locations in Northwest Arkansas by clicking here

If you don't meet the regional health care providers testing criteria, you are asked to reach out to your primary care provider, ADH or a local convenient care or urgent care location. 

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