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.
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.
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.