Nov 6, 2023 - Health

Raising the bar on health care in Arkansas

a lightbulb with a glowing medical cross filament

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Two panel discussions — one on health care workforce and the other on innovations in health care — were hosted Thursday in Fayetteville by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement.

The big picture: Arkansas should focus on rural health, training and retaining health care workers, and embracing technology to propel health care forward in the state, experts said.

Some key takeaways include:

  1. Debbie Jones, superintendent at Bentonville Public Schools, stressed the need for schools to work with health care organizations to expose students to hands-on medical experience early on, as Bentonville does through its Ignite program. Students can get ahead in their training before college — or find out early they don't want to pursue health care.
  2. The state isn't bringing in a lot of private investment money for innovations in health care, said Sarah Goforth, executive director at the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of Arkansas. About $30 million in venture capital for health care came into Arkansas in 2022, she said.
  3. Artificial intelligence has the potential to make health care more efficient while retaining workers, Goforth said, adding that people in the field need to be involved in policy surrounding AI. Carol Silva Moralez, president of Upskill NWA, expressed concerns about health care students' knowledge of technology.
  4. Direct-care roles see high turnover rates, including home health care workers and certified nursing assistants. Raising the wages of those jobs, which are largely held by women of color, and creating pathways to higher-paying jobs in the industry can help with retention, said Kelsie George, health program policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What they're saying: Ryan Cork, executive director for the Northwest Arkansas Council's health care transformation division, emphasized the need to focus on child and family services, mental health, and rural health and connectivity.

Context: Residents in areas like NWA and Little Rock have far better access to care than other parts of the state — some counties don't have a single dentist. Panelists focused on the lack of access to technology, including internet access, among patients in rural areas of the state.

Background: NWA needs health care workers of all kinds. Health care and community organizations have launched coordinated efforts to offer more services in the region, train doctors, increase residency opportunities and even to make the region a health care "destination."


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