LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – As the omicron variant continues to surge, UAMS added 27 new COVID-19 beds to deal with the high demand. Emergency responders said they hope this helps decongest a system dealing with delays.

“Those [ambulances] that should be able to turn around in just a few minutes and be available for 911 calls are tied up in that hospital,” said Greg Thompson, the Executive Director for MEMS in Little Rock.

Ambulances have been dealing with delays for several months, as the new variant is putting a strain on drivers in multiple ways. One instance is the emergency room wait times, as patients will wait up to an hour to be seen, Thompson said.

Records obtained by KARK News show some people have experienced more than 20-minute delays before getting an ambulance. In at least one instance, someone canceled the call and found another way to the hospital.

“We have not seen it at levels like this until now,” Thompson said.

UAMS installed 27 beds for COVID-19 patients last week, among 50 new beds in total, said Dr. Steppe Mette, the Senior Vice-Chancellor. The demand was high, and something needed to be done.

“It’s a strain because we’re asking our staff to do more,” Mette said.

UAMS asked to be reimbursed for that expansion through American Rescue Plan funds at a total of around $4.5 million. Mette said the high demand will likely continue through February.

“I don’t think there’s a simple solution, honestly,” Mette said.

Mette said emergency rooms will likely continue to be stretched thin, so field hospitals and expanded buildings may be something that needs to be looked into. He said staffing those would be a challenge.