InCharge HEALTHCARE 2019
Top Healthcare Executives Tackle the Challenge of Bending the Healthcare Curve in Arkansas
Efforts underway to improve Arkansas’ low overall health ranking By BECKY GILLETTE
Arkansas is consistently ranked near the bottom in terms of overall public health. Top healthcare executives in Arkansas are determined to “bend the healthcare curve” to help create a population with better health. “There is likely not one solution, but rather a series of incremental steps that will be necessary to improve overall health in Arkansas,” said Washington Regional President and CEO Larry Shackelford. He advocates initiatives to encourage Arkansans to take personal responsibility to be healthier and more active. “For example, Arkansas has an obesity rate of 36 percent, which is currently the 7th highest rate in the nation,” Shackelford said. “However, high school students in Arkansas rank first in obesity in the nation. It is critically important that we educate our youth about the importance of physical activity, that we provide access to healthy foods that meet dietary guidelines and that we encourage less consumption of sugary beverages.” The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is in a unique position to help improve healthcare outcomes due to having employees in 73 of the 75 counties in the state according to Chancellor Cam Patterson, MD. That is the focus of the UAMS Vision 2029 plan.
4 Arkansas Medical News
“It is really critical that we ensure that everybody is on the same page,” Patterson said. “The strategic plan was created by people who work here. Because of that, it is much easier for us to be sure that everybody is engaged in implementing this plan. We have intense interest and enthusiasm in moving our strategic plan forward.” While it is possible to have exceptional healthcare without great health outcomes, people in rural parts of the state often don’t have access to healthcare. That could be due to a lack of providers or lack of transportation. “We can do great things to improve healthcare in Pulaski County, but to move the state forward in health outcomes we need to focus on working with people in counties with poor healthcare metrics,” Patterson said “That is where UAMS is focusing its efforts to make sure Arkansas is not just another Southern state with bad healthcare outcomes.” Conway Regional CEO Matt Troup says poor health does not necessarily mean poor healthcare. “Health is driven by factors like obesity, lack of exercise, smoking and a poor diet that statewide healthcare has not been able to impact,” Troup said. “Faulkner County is the fourth healthiest county in the state largely due to having a population that is younger and exercises more.” But having timely access to healthcare when needed is critical.
“Legislators can help with how they fund healthcare,” Troup said. “We need to protect the Medicaid expansion. Protecting Arkansas Works is going to be important to improving health.” Patterson said Arkansas has been spared the closure of rural hospitals that have afflicted neighboring states that didn’t expand Medicaid. “The legislature has a direct and very beneficial impact on access to care in many of the more rural counties,” he said. Beverly Nix Stone, MA, FACHE, CEO, SHARP, Inc., a physicianhospital organization based in Jonesboro with about 4,300 providers and 173 facilities, agrees the lifestyle issues must be addressed to improve health in the state. “We are providing care for many people who are obese and who do not engage in a healthy lifestyle,” Stone said. “To make improvements, we need to start with our own industry, test some innovative ideas and see what works within our healthcare workforce. Focusing on maximizing cooperative project output and positive work environments for different personality types, and working with exhausted and stressed out people to develop effective stress management skills would be a good place to start.” She also advocates greater taxation for substances that adversely affect health. “The tobacco tax was a great