Arkansas plans to pay nurses up to $2,000 per month during pandemic


A $116 million plan to support the Arkansas healthcare system would include paying some nurses up to $2,000 per month during the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Thursday outlined the Medicaid-funded proposal that also provides support for healthcare facility improvements, workforce training, telemedicine, temporary housing and more.

The proposal would require approval of a federal Medicaid waiver, which the governor said an application has already been applied for.

He said bonus payments of $1,000 a month would be made to non-physician, direct-care workers (primarily nurses) in long-term-care facilities and to workers who provide in-home health care services. For those working in a facility with a diagnosed COVID-19 patient, the payments would be doubled to $2,000 a month.

“We’re gonna need these healthcare workers who are at risk and we want to make sure they’re incentivized to be there,” said Hutchinson.

The bonuses, he said, would come in weekly payments and last eight weeks with the possibility of 30-day extensions if necessary.

The plan includes several other highlights, such as:

  • Capital improvement payments to hospitals, independent physicians, rural health clinics, and behavioral health agencies for environmental modifications like drive-thru test sites, construction of isolation areas, and other things that are needed specifically during the pandemic.
  • Financial support for workforce safety and training for providers for whom it’s necessary to continue to provide face-to-face services. Payments will be flexible to meet the priority needs of the healthcare provider, for example, it could be adding extended hours to clinic hours of operation or shifting work hours to accommodate sick visits versus healthy visits.
  • Workforce training and the expansion of telemedicine and non-emergency transportation to keep patients connected to medical care.
  • Payments to nursing facilities that care for a disproportionate share of individuals being treated for COVID-19. This could be temporary housing for individuals who are homeless, or any facility in which there’s a high percentage of people being treated for COVID-19.

As of Thursday afternoon, there were 335 positive coronavirus cases in Arkansas, up from 280 on Wednesday. Of those cases, 14 are children, 108 are over age 65, and 213 are between the ages of 19 and 64.

There were 41 patients reported as hospitalized across the state, up from 12 on Wednesday. It’s a significant increase, but that is due in part to new reporting methods put in place, said Dr. Nate Smith, the state’s secretary of health. Thirteen patients were on ventilators, 11 had recovered, and a third person had died as of Thursday, said Smith.