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Final thoughts from a leader

I remember the first time I met Dr. Dan Rahn. He was taller than I expected, distinguished and had a handshake that could crush a cue ball.

I watched him over a two-and-a-half-day period in late 2013 as he and 60 other health care leaders debated and discussed the issue of obesity in Arkansas. Dr. Rahn was passionately cool, if such a thing exists. He addressed each complexity of the issue with pointed thoughtfulness. He was careful not to dominate the conversation, though when he spoke, people listened.

Through his leadership and that of many others – like Dr. Joe Thompson of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and Dr. Joe Bates, now retired from the Arkansas Department of Health – a plan to combat obesity was born.

The plan was formally drafted here at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute throughout 2014, and in 2015 we sought and received the endorsement of Gov. Asa Hutchinson to launch Healthy Active Arkansas, a statewide initiative to increase the number of Arkansans who are at a healthy weight.

Throughout that process and since, my impression of Dr. Rahn hasn’t changed. He’s often the smartest person in the room, but he treats everyone he encounters with respect.

Today is Dr. Rahn’s official last day as chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. When I met with him a couple of weeks ago, his shelves were already empty, his desk nearly bare. I encountered that same strong handshake, and Dr. Rahn eased from pleasantries and salutations to a succinct assessment of the origin of Healthy Active Arkansas.

“The starting point was specifically focused on obesity,” he began with the kind of energy one would expect from a leader just stepping into his role, not leaving it. “In Arkansas, we have a strategy for the health care sector. That strategy is insurance expansion, promulgation of electronic health information through incentives, and payment redesign. We’re gradually shifting from a volume-based structure to a value-based structure.”

He continued to explain to me the problem that UAMS and other health care systems face when trying to address obesity.

“If one looks at the drivers of ill health in Arkansas, there is an uneven distribution. The majority of the factors that contribute to ill health are not due to access to high-quality health care services. The majority are due to social and behavioral factors. The general concept is about 80 percent of the determinants of health care outcomes are external to the health care delivery system.

“Through our strategy for health care, we can deal with the consequences of obesity, but we can’t deal with the root cause.”

He says his support for Health Active Arkansas was borne of a desire to “move upstream” and work on strategies to prevent obesity from occurring in the first place. That decision starts at birth with a mother’s decision to breastfeed, he says, and continues through the child’s life with their intake of healthy foods and their level of physical activity (which, he notes, are both often affected by access).

I ask him about the state of Healthy Active Arkansas today, where we are and where we’re headed. I’ve learned over the past several years that Dr. Rahn is not a man to talk around a topic. He keenly analyzed our current organization, identifying that the HAA board is weighing a decision of whether to approach the initiative with a top-down management approach or a bottom-up system of encouragement. Faced with a decision between these two approaches, “the answer is likely ‘yes,’” he says and laughs.

He acknowledges the challenges of motivating players from various sectors to commit to the same ideals, especially if it involves instituting new policies or limiting choices, such as reforming the way vending machines are stocked.

I’ve long thought that Dr. Rahn is a prime example of someone who embraces what Jim Collins called the “Stockdale Paradox” in his best-seller Good to Great. The concept, broadly defined, is that the best approach to problems is to always preserve hope of a positive outcome while always honestly confronting the challenges that are in front of you.

In our conversation, swift on the heels of describing some of HAA’s challenges, Dr. Rahn follows with what has been encouraging to him.

“I think we’ve progressed well with no new funding,” he says. “I think it has been an effective, inclusive process. I think we’ve done a good job of raising awareness of the importance of the issue … and that we need to take control of our own health and our own future – at the family level, at the community level, at the employer level.”

Looking to the future of Healthy Active Arkansas, Dr. Rahn cautions against taking an all-or-nothing approach.

“We don’t want to get stuck saying ‘if we can’t do everything, then we can’t do anything.’”

Another challenge will be determining measures of success that will effectively determine whether our efforts are making a difference.

“This is a generational thing,” he says. “Change occurs across generations. So what will be our measures of success that will provide encouragement to stay the course?”

He also points out the importance of the collaborative nature of Healthy Active Arkansas.

“It’s important for each party or participant to not become something that it isn’t, but to bring its strengths to the table and to be working in collaboration and partnership with other individuals and organizations that have complementary strengths.”

I ask him about health literacy. As someone involved in the marketing aspect of Healthy Active Arkansas, health literacy comes up often as a key issue in the battle against not just obesity, but diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and a host of other health-related issues.

Dr. Rahn points out that health literacy is not about whether people understand technical words about health care, it’s whether they understand important concepts, getting to the “why” of health care and moving to a level of understand beyond just the “what.”

As we move toward that future, preparing to take on those challenges, it will be a little harder without Dr. Rahn involved. Healthy Active Arkansas is losing one of its original champions. Two of his colleagues on the Healthy Active Arkansas board gave their thoughts on the outgoing chancellor.

“Dan provided critical leadership in both articulating and committing both his institution and encouraging others across the state to join together to address this environmental threat to our future health, productivity and economic well-being,” Thompson said.

Dr. Nate Smith, state health officer and director of the Arkansas Department of Health, had this to say:

“Under Chancellor Rahn’s leadership, UAMS has been an invaluable ally in the statewide efforts to reduce obesity and chronic disease. Our progress in obesity prevention and reduction wouldn’t have been possible without Dr. Rahn’s support as chancellor of the state’s only academic health center. Arkansas is a healthier state because of UAMS’ commitment to public health, and Dr. Rahn has been at the center of that commitment for the past eight years.”

Many people know Dr. Rahn better than I do. I can’t share personal stories of fun memories or tell you what it was like to work with him day in and day out. But I’ve watched him lead from a close distance. He hasn’t always led by being in front of a group, but he’s always led.

From my vantage point, Dr. Rahn has been the type of leader Arkansas needed at the exact moment he was here. He leaves Healthy Active Arkansas in good hands, but he will be missed.

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Addressing a looming crisis

Rural health care in Arkansas is an ever-evolving, complex system. There are many different branches of a multitude of organizations all working toward the same goal: a healthier rural population. From local faith-based organizations providing weekly check-ins on elderly residents all the way to statewide initiatives working at the policy level to help provide more resources and support to rural Arkansas, all the stakeholders are doing what they can to move the needle in their own ways.   

Dr. Mark Jansen

As with any complex system, however, there are many challenges and crises facing rural health that extend beyond what any one organization can do on their own. Mark T. Jansen, M.D., medical director of UAMS regional programs, made that clear to us when he approached us about a looming crisis in rural Arkansas: a rapidly aging population and decreasing number of practicing rural doctors. It was clear to Dr. Jansen and to us that there would be no silver bullet solution to the problem and that diverse solutions required a diverse set of minds to develop.

Following what we call the “Rockefeller ethic,” we sought to find those innovative and collaborative solutions to the impending crisis by calling together the experts and stakeholders in rural health from around Arkansas. Forty-six participants answered the call and attended the inaugural Rural Health Summit on March 23-24. The Summit members represented major health institutions, places of higher learning, state organizations, municipalities, health clinics, membership organizations and beyond. Each organization represented is working on improving rural health in their own way, but the Summit participants took it a step further by giving their time and applying their unique expertise to closely examine the existing and upcoming gaps in service delivery and plot a collaborative course to better health care in rural Arkansas.

Rural Health Summit

Those 46 Summit members put in an astounding effort during the noon-to-noon Summit, producing a list of resources, needs and critical questions about rural health care across the state in six different regions (northwest, north central, northeast, southeast, southwest and central Arkansas). The Summit members produced a list of over 120 services and resources currently available, compiled more than 140 needed services and resources, and identified 27 service and need areas that require closer scrutiny.

Beyond all of the impressive data they provided, the best part about the commitment of the Summit members is that they will be actively addressing those need areas beyond the Summit itself. During the Summit they selected a 12-member COMMITtee that will work with us at the Institute to see where the larger group can make the most impact. We’ll meet with the COMMITtee bi-monthly for the rest of the year to make sense of all the data, bring in new Summit members and start filling the gaps in rural Arkansas health care through a collaborative effort. 

It is a phenomenal privilege to work with people who not only dedicate their careers to improving Arkansas health care, but who also find time outside of their normal duties to see where they can help more. I also want to extend special thanks to Dr. Jansen and the Blue & You Foundation. The Summit was designed in partnership with Dr. Jansen, who also sponsored a portion of the Summit as the invested chair for the Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, George K. Mitchell, M.D., Endowed Chair in Primary Care. The initial Summit and follow-up activities are also made possible in part through a grant from the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas.   

I look forward to continuing our work with this great group of dedicated individuals to positively impact rural health in Arkansas.

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A culture of support

Sasha Cerrato is the creative director for the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute. On March 28, she spoke alongside Arkansas First Lady Susan Hutchinson and others at the Arkansas State Capitol in support of Breastfeeding Awareness Day. The following is part of the story she shared that day.

I’m a full-time working mother of two beautiful girls, the youngest of which was born 18 months ago, about 2 ½ years after I started working at the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute.

When my first daughter was born, I was working at a different company and had limited success in breastfeeding because it was difficult to balance my work schedule with my pump schedule.

During my second-born’s pregnancy, I was determined to do a better job at managing that balance and have more success with breastfeeding.

The thing I never expected was that this time my employer was eager to help me make it work, too.

I live in Little Rock, but the Institute is about an hour’s commute on Petit Jean Mountain. On my first day back our executive director pulled me aside and told me to do what I needed to do. She recognized how hard the transition would be and encouraged me to take the time I needed to make it work for both the Institute and my family.

Shortly after, our director of communications and marketing, my boss, switched our weekly marketing meeting to a time that better suited my pump schedule, and continued to refer to that schedule for future meetings and events.

Examples like these over the nine months that I pumped while working at the Rockefeller Institute are numerous and came from every level of our company.

The fact is, there is nothing about pumping that is easy. In addition to nursing in the morning and before bed, I had to pump four times a day for a minimum of 15 minutes at a time to inch out the milk it took to sustain my daughter while I was at work. And frankly, the only reason I was able to keep that baby on breastmilk through her first year was because the company I worked for supported me in doing it. The Winthrop Rockefeller Institute saw the value in a mother providing the best nutrition I could for my child. They saw the value in supporting a young family. And that meant doing much more than simply following the letter of the law. There’s a big difference between providing space and providing support. The Institute showed me that difference, and for that, I will be eternally grateful.

I’ve been blessed to gain a lot of good experience throughout my career, and I’m to a point now that I know I have options should I choose to look for another opportunity. But any time I’ve toyed with the idea of a new career — maybe something closer to home, slightly better pay, etc. — I think about the culture at the Institute, and the support I receive there, and I realize that they’ve made it so I don’t want to leave. They have earned a devoted employee.

And that is far from unique. Study after study shows that family-friendly work cultures increase employee retention, benefit organizational citizenship behavior, and improve work attitudes.

What I hope my story does is present a challenge: What can we be doing to support one another and encourage family-friendly cultures and policies in our respective work spaces? In my mind at least, the question is vital not only to individual families, but to society as a whole.

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Breastfeeding in Arkansas is gaining momentum

The winds of change are blowing in Arkansas when it comes to breastfeeding.

Our state is routinely near the bottom of the country when it comes to the percentage of mothers who breastfeed, but recent efforts promise a brighter future for Arkansas’ nursing moms.

Earlier this week, I was privileged to speak alongside First Lady Susan Hutchinson and state Rep. Mary Bentley (R-Perryville) at the State Capitol to commemorate the state’s Breastfeeding Awareness Day as proclaimed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Rep. Bentley organized the event along with Healthy Active Arkansas to draw attention to Arkansas’ laws regarding breastfeeding in public and in the workplace.

In my 20-plus years working as a lactation consultant, I have seen great strides made in understanding, technology and policy regarding breastfeeding. There are many more resources for nursing mothers now than when I first started, and I’m excited to see more and more mothers take advantage of the support that is available.

As the team lead of the Healthy Active Arkansas Breastfeeding priority, I also had the privilege of attending a press conference announcing and celebrating the Baby Friendly designation of Northwest Medical Center-Willow Creek and Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville on Feb. 14. This press conference and celebration, which was also attended by Mrs. Hutchinson, were important because those two birthing hospitals are the first Baby Friendly designated hospitals in Arkansas.

Only 417 U.S. hospitals and birthing centers in 49 states and the District of Columbia hold the Baby Friendly designation. More than 20 percent of annual births (approximately 807,500 births) occur at these Baby Friendly-designated facilities. Every hospital that attains the Baby Friendly designation moves us closer to meeting important public health goals of increasing the proportion of live births that occur in facilities that provide recommended care for lactating mothers and their babies. In 2007, only 2.9 percent of U.S. births occurred in Baby Friendly-designated facilities. The Healthy People 2020 goal is 8.1%.

After the press conference last month, the leadership team and committee members of Northwest Medical Center-Willow Creek and Northwest Medical Center-Bentonville met with Baby Friendly team members from several of the other hospitals around our state that are currently working toward this prestigious and important designation. The information they shared with us was invaluable. They reviewed common roadblocks and solutions and provided needed encouragement for the challenges that will be faced in obtaining designation. With the leadership of our two designated hospitals, and the support of Healthy Active Arkansas, there will be six additional Baby Friendly hospitals in Arkansas within the next two years! 

The Baby Friendly journey creates an environment that is supportive of best practices in maternity care and of optimal infant feeding. The 4–D Pathway is a fit for all institutions; large and small hospitals, for profit and not-for-profit hospitals, teaching hospitals, and hospitals at various stages of development in their breastfeeding support programs. If you would like more information on how your birthing facility can make a commitment to improve infant feeding policies, training and practices by embarking on the 4-D pathway to Baby Friendly designation, visit the Baby Friendly USA website.

Jessica Donahue is a registered nurse and lactation consultant for Baptist Health in Little Rock, Ark. She serves as the breastfeeding priority area lead for Healthy Active Arkansas, a statewide health initiative that both Baptist Health and the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute helped launch.

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Blue supplies the green that will lead to better rural health care

We are thrilled that our Rural Health Summit is one of 31 projects selected for funding by the Blue & You Foundation for a Healthier Arkansas this year. Established by Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield in 2001, the Foundation is a separate nonprofit with the sole mission of funding projects in Arkansas that will improve health care in the state. The funding support from Blue & You allows us to keep participant costs low and bring in outside experts to make the most of our time with our participants. 

The initial planning for the Summit began with discussions about rural health care needs in Arkansas with Dr. Mark T. Jansen, director of regional programming at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and invested chair for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, George K. Mitchell, M.D., Endowed Chair in Primary Care. That conversation expanded to include other health care leaders who have a stake in raising the quality and availability of health care in rural areas. These leaders all supported creating a network of cross-collaboration among the many efforts currently operating in rural Arkansas and looking at manageable, short-term goals to address during the next year to two years. It is our belief that establishing such a network will be an important step toward creating a rural health care environment that will be more attractive to new physicians and foster an increase in quality care.

Near the end of March we will host the first Summit meeting to begin building that collaborative network of healthcare professionals and organizations. We’ll be joined by representatives of some of the state’s leading health groups and professional organizations for a facilitated two-day session to start the process, followed by regional visits and a larger Summit meeting later in the year. Our hope is to foster increased collaboration and resource sharing so that innovative health care solutions can be shared more readily in the state and incoming physicians will have established allies at all points of rural healthcare. 

We are extremely grateful to the Blue & You Foundation for their support. Above and beyond the monetary contribution, their backing of our effort and the 30 other recipients this year represents a belief that we will all be able to make a tangible difference in the state. Carrying that charge and that belief into our working sessions will further underscore the importance of coming together and empower our group to start tackling the challenges facing rural health.

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Rural Health Day highlights state's needs, those working to meet them

Happy National Rural Health Day! Today, November 17, 2016, is the first official Rural Health Day in Arkansas, recognized by a recent proclamation from Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Organized nationally by the National Organization of State Rural Health Offices, the third Thursday of every November is set aside to recognize the work done in rural communities by health officials across the nation.

With countless acres of farmland, the Delta, friendly small towns and close-knit communities, Arkansas knows rural. In fact, while the national average for rural populations was 19% in 2010, Arkansas averaged 44%, according to the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture’s Rural Profile of Arkansas - 2015. And while rural communities are great places to live and work, they present unique challenges for health care. Both rural and urban care centers in the state look to improve the quality and access of care for the people they serve, but in rural areas that often extends to transportation concerns, telecommunications support and a dearth of physical spaces to receive care. According to the Rural Profile, there are an average of 64.5 primary care physicians per 100,000 people in rural Arkansas compared to 139 physicians per 100,000 people in urban areas.   

Recognizing those challenges to rural health care is an important part of Rural Health Day, especially in our state where if you don’t personally live in a rural area, odds are that a family member or loved one does. Equally important, however, is to recognize and appreciate the continued efforts to improve rural health care in the state and address those challenges head on. In Arkansas, that includes the Arkansas Department of Health’s Office of Rural Health and Primary Care. Beyond leading the charge to officially recognize Rural Health Day in the state, the ORHPC is involved with administering state health care grant programs to rural areas in need, developing training programs for continuing education specific to rural areas, supporting  the development of community-based health centers and much more.

The Arkansas Department of Health and the ORHPC share the goal of improved rural health care with many organizations across the state, including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas Hospital Association, Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield, Arkansas Minority Health Commission, Community Health Centers of Arkansas, Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, multiple faith-based groups and countless other organizations. So while the challenges are many, so are the helping hands.

We look forward to working with these and other organizations on a Rural Health Summit in 2017. We’ll have more to share about the summit in this space as it draws closer.

In the meantime, to learn more about Rural Health Day and national rural health concerns and efforts, you can visit this page on the National Organization of State Rural Health Offices site. To learn more about what is going on locally, the Office of Rural Health and Primary Care-produced State Rural Health Plan 2015-2020 is a good place to start. Above all else, take a moment to recognize the many health care issues faced by rural communities, celebrate the progress made so far and appreciate the tireless efforts by so many groups to make sure our rural neighbors receive the health care and support they deserve.      

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Fair play

A trip to the playground — hurtling down the rocket slide, soaring on the swing set, making yourself dizzy on the merry-go-round. For children in America, it’s a quintessential part of childhood, right? Right up there with refusing to eat your peas. The experience builds social bonds, encourages creativity and, of course, provides an exhilarating outlet for fun.

I’ll bet there is a good chance just reading those words conjured up one of your own playground memories — maybe a recent trip with your children or a recollection from your own childhood.

Some children, however, face challenges — through no fault of their own or of their parents — that make a traditionally designed playground something much less than a pursuit of unbridled enthusiasm. For example, children with disabilities or mobility impairments may be excluded because of accessibility or equipment issues. Or, perhaps, they have a parent or guardian who is confined to a wheelchair. These children not only lose the fun and social experiences that playgrounds bring, they miss the physical and mental health benefits that an active lifestyle provides.

The city of Bryant is hoping to remove those barriers, so that all of its citizens will be able to use the playground and take their children to the playground. In 2017, they plan to commence construction of a new universally designed, fully inclusive playground at Wilbur D. Mills Park — an 80-acre city park originally built in the early 1970s. The current equipment will be replaced with inclusive equipment that will allow all children to play and interact together (the current equipment, incidentally, will be repurposed in another park that doesn’t have a playground).

Renderings of new playground equipment at Mills Park

“Mills Park is a very important and historical park for Bryant,” Mayor Jill Dabbs said. “It’s filled with people every day and functions the way you want a park to function. So, it is already a healthy, active park … and it makes sense to invest in it and put this playground there.”

The project is far more than adding wheelchair access points to an existing playground. So, you may ask, how does a playground that is universally inclusive differ from a playground that is accessible? Well, Inspiring Play magazine describes it thusly: “An inclusive playground takes into account not just the physical equipment and tactics … it embraces the philosophy that children and adults of ALL abilities benefit immensely from being able to play and interact together. These types of playgrounds take into account children with physical disabilities as well as special needs or developmental disabilities.”

For example, the inclusive playground at Mills Park will be broken into three stations organized by age group. At each station, there will be playground equipment with ramps that allow access to everyone — including children, or their guardians, in wheelchairs.

“What that means is, (anyone) that is bound to a wheelchair will have the ability to enter and exit the playground equipment without ever having to leave that chair, unless they want to (to use the slide for example),” said Spencer McCorkel, assistant director of parks for the City of Bryant. “And that’s the point. This playground will accommodate any person from start to finish.”

Bryant’s commitment to providing a public space for all children to be active also coincides with the objectives of Healthy Active Arkansas (HAA). The statewide, 10-year framework – which Dabbs helped shape through her participation in planning summits put on by the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute – launched in 2015 and was designed to improve nutrition, reduce obesity and other health issues, and broadly encourage and enable healthier lifestyles in Arkansas. Specifically, one of the nine priority areas that make up the HAA framework, Physical and Built Environment, urges stakeholders “to create livable places that improve mobility, availability and access within the community where they live, work and play.”

Casey Covington of Metroplan is the team lead for HAA’s Physical and Built Environment priority area. He recently praised Bryant’s commitment to this inclusive playground.

“We want to make sure that all our kids, including those with disabilities, have a place where they can be physically active while also reaping the social benefits that public spaces offer,” he said. “If someone is active at an early age, then their chances of maintaining an active lifestyle is significantly better.”

Parks Director Chris Treat said that depending on the amount of funding available at the start of the project, the city is hoping to complete the project in one phase by the end of 2017 — although he said they are prepared to phase it in over time, if necessary.

The city is still in the planning and fundraising stages for the new playground equipment, with part of the funding coming from reissued bonds. Of the $4 million designated to the Parks Department, $300,000 has been earmarked for the renovations at Mills Park. The total cost of the renovation is projected at $786,000, with the remainder to be raised through fundraising efforts with the assistance of the nonprofit Friends for Inclusive Parks (Everett Buick GMC in Bryant, for example, has already pledged $10,000). The city is also hopeful they will receive an additional $250,000 in grant funding.

The project has been in the works for approximately two years since the city was approached by community members such as Erin Gildner with Friends for Inclusive Parks. Dabbs says she is not aware of another park of this scale anywhere in the central Arkansas area, but that’s not what she will be most proud of when this project comes to fruition.

“The reason this opportunity is available is not because the local government said this is important, but because the people said it’s important, and that is when you get the best projects,” she said. “This particular project just encourages more activity in an already-active place, and it will be a park that people from all over the state will come and visit — a place that parents can seek out to have that normal playground experience, regardless of their child’s abilities.

“I think when people — no matter what their abilities are — are given the opportunity to become their best person, it benefits them and their communities long term in every way.”

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Becoming baby-friendly

In an effort to improve mother/infant bonding, a handful of hospitals in Arkansas are adopting the Baby-Friendly hospital initiative.

You might be thinking, “Well, isn’t it a given that all hospitals would be baby friendly?”

I had that thought as well until I learned the meaning behind the effort. And it’s a touching one.

First, it’s important to understand the Healthy Active Arkansas initiative, of which the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute is a partner. The collaborative includes many leaders across the state to promote wellness and help fight obesity in the state, explains Juli McWhorter, chief nursing officer at Northwest Medical Center-Willow Creek Women’s Hospital.

“Promotion of breastfeeding is one of the major initiatives,” she says. “It is a very big deal for this collaborative, and they are so excited for us and the state of Arkansas.”

Willow Creek was the first hospital in the state to achieve national accolades for this breastfeeding initiative.

“We have always been ‘Baby-Friendly,’” says Sharif Omar, CEO of Northwest Health. “This designation simply affirms our commitment to the safest and highest quality care for our newborns and moms at both of the Northwest Health hospitals since Willow Creek was the first to receive this recognition a few months ago. We were thrilled when Willow Creek was the first hospital in Arkansas and are even more elated now that our second facility, Northwest Medical Center – Bentonville, is the second in the state.”

Baby-Friendly USA, Inc. is the U.S. authority for the implementation of the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (“BFHI”), a global program sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), according to a news release. The initiative encourages and recognizes hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for breastfeeding mothers and their babies. Based on the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, this prestigious international award recognizes birth facilities that offer breastfeeding mothers the information, confidence and skills needed to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies.

The Northwest Medical Center news release points out that there are more than 20,000 designated Baby-Friendly hospitals worldwide and only 364 active Baby-Friendly centers in the United States.

The BFHI assists hospitals in giving all mothers the information, confidence and skills necessary to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies or feeding formula safely, and gives special recognition to hospitals that have done so.

The designation is given after a rigorous on-site survey is completed. It is maintained by continuing to practice the Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding.

From a nurse’s standpoint, McWhorter says this effort helps improve mother-infant bonding by initiating the practice skin-to-skin contact.

“The World Health Organization recommends newborns spend the first hour of life in a skin-to-skin contact,” she says.

Benefits of this practice include better thermoregulation in the infant, decreased respiratory rate, blood glucose control, greater infant comfort and less infant crying. This practice also improves breastfeeding outcomes, McWhorter notes.

In turn, the relationship between health provider and patient or new mothers is improved as well.

“We’re promoting patient/family-centered care by allowing mothers and infants to remain together immediately after birth regardless of type of delivery,” McWhorter says.

“This helps support the mother in establishing breastfeeding through education and we’re offering breastfeeding support after discharge through outpatient visits and breastfeeding support groups.”

Overall, “we hope to improve mother and infant bonding and to improve patient outcomes by educating mothers of the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and her newborn.”

Baptist Health is another hospital that is going baby-friendly. Jessiaca Donahue is an RN IBCLC Certified Lactation consultant at the Little Rock medical center. She is also the breastfeeding team lead for Healthy Active Arkansas. She explains that mothers who deliver their baby in a baby-friendly facility can be assured that all policies and procedures in place will support their feeding choice and that all staff is on board to help her be successful. 

“Becoming a baby-friendly facility is a comprehensive, detailed and thorough journey toward excellence in providing evidence-based maternity care with the goal of achieving optimal infant feeding outcomes and mother/baby bonding,” Donahue says.

“It compels facilities to examine, challenge and modify longstanding policies and procedures. It requires training and skill building among all levels of staff. It entails implementing audit processes to assure quality in all aspects of maternity care operations. The journey is exciting, challenging and worth it. It creates opportunities to develop high performance work teams and build leadership skills among staff, promotes employee pride, enhances patient satisfaction and improves health outcomes.”

At Baptist, there is Baby Friendly Committee in place, Donahue adds. It is on track to be awarded the Baby-Friendly certification by next year. Feedback, ideas and comments are welcome, she says. Contact her at 501.202.7378 or Jessica.donahue@baptist-health.org for more information. You can also keep up with Baptist Health on Facebook for the latest developments.

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Fresh2You brings healthy produce to urban food deserts

From health care to personal services, the world becomes increasingly more mobile every day. Food is no exception. With the rise of farmers markets and the push to provide healthy options for everyone despite income level, many key players have joined forces in Little Rock to bring farm fresh produce to those in need.

And talk about putting an old city bus to good use. Once relegated to public transportation, a Little Rock municipal bus has been turned into a mobile farmers market. The “Fresh2You” bus can hardly be missed with its vibrant wrap of produce images.

The bus was parked at 19th and Arch streets in downtown Little Rock last week as a trial run before the initiative officially kicks off on Tuesday. Parked by Parris Towers – a public housing community – the bus was filled with produce provided by Raising Arkansas, a minority farmers collective.

The daily specials included sweet corn, three for a $1; sweet potatoes, $.50 per pound; tomatoes, $1 per pound; and blueberries, $2 per pound.

Alex Handfinger and Maggie Peach

Next to the bus was a tent featuring Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance’s Cooking Matters program. Representatives Alex Handfinger and Maggie Peach happily offered cantaloupe samples to passersby.

“We’re all working together to help people access healthy food,” said Tomiko Townley with the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance. She helps people throughout the state realize their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. “Food stamps” is the former term for SNAP.

The Fresh2You initiative accepts SNAP dollars, Townley said.

Increasing access to healthy foods is a key priority of both the Alliance and Healthy Active Arkansas, a statewide initiative endorsed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson that is designed to improve the health of all Arkansans. The initiative is divided into nine priority areas, each having two-, five- and 10-year goals.

Alliance Executive Director Kathy Webb serves as the co-team lead for one of Healthy Active Arkansas’ priority areas: Access to Healthy Foods.

“The Fresh2You mobile farmers market helps us meet four of our goals within the Access to Healthy Foods priority area,” Webb said.

The Fresh2You bus represents a partnership between the Alliance, the City of Little Rock, Raising Arkansas, Mosaic Church, the Blue and You Foundation and Rock Region Metro.

“It’s a great public/private partnership,” Webb said.

Johnny Pettis

Inside the bus last week was Johnny Pitts, founder of Raising Arkansas.

“Our goal is to help local growers and build them up,” he said.

The organization operates a year-round farm in Sheridan and works all over the state to reach out to farmers, Pitts said.

“We’re working on establishing a new food chain and getting farmers to work together.”

Pitts is more than ready to continue working with this initiative. The plan is to park the bus on given days to provide produce and help promote the hunger alliance’s Cooking Matters program.

The six-week course is free and held at different locations in partnership with different organizations, said Lynne Phillips, development director for the Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance.

“We’re teaching people how to shop and cook healthily on a budget,” she said, pointing to the featured menu cards.

The Fresh2You bus will be parked at Parris Towers every Tuesday and at the Hillary Rodham Clinton Children’s Library and Learning Center on Saturdays. A hope is to one day serve the housing authority downtown, Townley said.

A press conference will be held at 9 a.m. Tuesday to officially launch the mobile farmers market, followed by the market opening at 10.

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To explain this a little better ...

When Gov. Asa Hutchinson launched the Healthy Active Arkansas plan from the State Capitol on Oct. 14, I was in the back of the room. Behind all of the media. As various reporters asked their questions about the plan, which was designed to promote healthier lifestyles among all Arkansans, I tried to put myself in their shoes.

The Institute - along with other groups like the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, the Arkansas Coalition for Obesity Prevention and the Arkansas Department of Health - has been actively involved in the creation and dissemination of the plan for several years now, so I’ve had a front-row seat to the development of each focus area, each recommendation, each statistic. But if I was being introduced to the plan with no prior context, how would I digest all of the information it holds?

The truth is, it’d be difficult to wrap my mind around it just by sitting and reading through the plan. The Arkansas Department of Health understands that. And they’re doing something about it.

From 10 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Feb. 4, ADH is hosting an orientation meeting designed to give fuller explanations of each of Healthy Active Arkansas’ nine focus areas. Those focus areas are:

  • Physical and built environment
  • Nutritional standards in government, institutions and the private sector
  • Nutritional standards in schools – early child care through college
  • Physical education and activity in schools – early child care through college
  • Healthy worksites
  • Access to healthy foods
  • Sugar-sweetened beverage reduction
  • Breastfeeding
  • Marketing program

The orientation meeting is open to all who are interested in learning more about the plan, especially those who are looking for ways to get involved in helping meet the plan’s two-, five- and 10-year goals.

To reserve a seat (it’s free), email Marisha DiCarlo, director of the Office of Health Communications for ADH, at Marisha.DiCarlo@arkansas.gov. The meeting will take place in the Health Department’s auditorium, located at their headquarters at 4815 W. Markham St. in Little Rock.

Since we launched the plan back in October, project leads have been identified for each of the nine focus areas. At the orientation meeting, these individuals (including me, talking about the marketing program) will each speak briefly about their specific area, their immediate goals and how others can get involved.

There’s a lot at stake here. It’s no secret that Arkansas ranks near the bottom when the states are assessed for health care outcomes. In 2014, we had the highest rate of adult obesity, and we don’t fare too well on things like diabetes and hypertension, either.

Healthy Active Arkansas is a blueprint for how we can start changing those trends. That means saving lives. It means adding quality of life to people who currently have no hope. It means kids performing better in schools and employees performing better at work (healthy people = better students and more productive workforce). It means making our state a better place to live, which in turn will attract more business here, creating more and better opportunities for Arkansans.

So I invite you to join me on Feb. 4 at the Health Department. I’d encourage you to brush up on the Healthy Active Arkansas plan before you come. You can download a free copy at www.healthyactive.org.

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