From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
The Legislative Council has approved the use of about $245 million for additional staffing and bed space in Arkansas hospitals and nursing homes.
Almost everyone you talk to is in favor of expanding our medical facilities, because they are strained to the breaking point due to the extraordinary number of patients with Covid-19, and its newest version, the Delta Variant.
However, we have to be deliberate and thoughtful. Thanks to the federal government and the American Rescue Plan, Arkansas state government has more than $1.5 billion in relief funding.
My concern is that we may be in too much of a hurry. Of course we want to respond as quickly as possible to help individuals and businesses that have been harmed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
But we have to make sure we spend relief funding where it will do the most good, and provide the most effective services.
For example, last week I was allowed very little time to analyze the proposal to spend more than $250 million to boost staffing and resources at hospitals and nursing homes.
I’m on the steering committee appointed by the governor to review all requests for relief funding, and to forward the most worthy proposals to the Legislative Council.
I was given about an hour to review the proposals. That is simply not enough time to be fair and equitable.
Of course we’re all for improving our medical facilities during a health emergency. But I’m afraid we may have rushed to judgment and committed too much money to central and western parts of the state, at the expense of facilities in east Arkansas.
I have similar concerns about how quickly we have committed funding for broadband expansion.
Connecting rural Arkansas with high speed Internet is a tremendous strategy for economic development, for improving access to health care and for keeping our schools open during the pandemic.
But we have to follow a plan. It would be a waste of money and opportunity to provide one community with half a dozen options for Internet connections, while at the same time another community is still without broadband service.
At the end of the day, it’s a good problem to have, and it’s much better than having no relief funding to spend at all.
As the school year approaches, we need to have as many viable options as possible. That means reliable Internet for all our schools, so they can switch to virtual classrooms if they have to.
And as the Delta Variant strains the capacity of our hospitals, it means we have to help provide additional staffing and additional beds in every corner of the state.
From the Capitol, it is always my greatest honor and most sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.