UAMS Celebrates Opening of Center for Rural Health

By Nate Hinkel

During a ceremony at the three-story building renovated to accommodate the Center for Rural Health, UAMS leaders said the center will become a primary outreach arm, working closely with public and private programs to improve the health of rural Arkansans.

Located in the Education South building, 4021 West Eighth St. (also known as the old KARN radio station building), the new center was created in conjunction with the reorganization of UAMS Regional Programs and the UAMS Rural Hospital Program. The Regional Programs umbrella includes the new center and the eight Area Health Education Centers (AHECs). The AHECs are located throughout the state to provide residency training to family medicine physicians, clinical services and education in other health care fields.

“One of UAMS’ strengths is its unique ability to help rural communities provide health care to their residents,” UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., said at the ceremony. “The Center for Rural Health is building on that foundation by encouraging partnerships, identifying collaborative opportunities and leveraging resources and knowledge inside and outside of UAMS to accomplish our outreach mission.”

Mark Mengel, M.D., Ph.D., vice chancellor for UAMS Regional Programs, noted that the need for a sustained and collaborative effort is evidenced by Arkansas’ poor health rankings. Arkansas is 40th nationally in overall health status, with mortality rates for heart disease, cancer, stroke, respiratory disease and unintentional injuries higher in rural areas than in other parts of the state and the nation.

Forty-eight of Arkansas’ 75 counties are designated as primary care Health Professional Shortage Areas, and 47 counties have an infant mortality rate higher than the national average. The state’s overall infant mortality rate is 8.4 per 1,000 live births, exceeding the national average of 6.9.

In addition, Arkansas ranks 47th in the number of physicians per capita, 42nd
in primary care physicians, 49th in dentists and 38th in registered nurses.

The center has a long and varied list of partners and prospective collaborators on research and other projects, including the state Department of Health, the Arkansas Hospital Association, Arkansas Farm Bureau and University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and Arkansas Literacy Council.

“Our goal is to become a central location where all of our partners and all those who are working on rural health issues in the state have a point of contact for collaboration and for sharing resources so that we can have a greater impact on rural health,” said Ann Bynum, Ph.D., director of the Center for Rural Health and co-director of the UAMS Center for Distance Health.

The center’s outreach activities include:

• Expanding on successful efforts by the AHECs to recruit students in rural areas to health care careers. The center is placing recruiters at each of the AHECs. Sixty-one percent of high school students who have participated in the recruiting programs are now in health care professions.

• Conducting regular surveys of all Arkansas hospitals and clinics to determine communities’ health care provider needs, primarily for doctors and advanced practice nurses. The information is used to help place health providers in areas of need.

• Offering a site with the most advanced interactive video communications technology available. Five rooms are designated for video conferencing and telemedicine, with links to 50 rural hospital partners, the AHECs and eight UAMS Centers on Aging. The center already reaches more than 5,000 people each year using telemedicine for its continuing education programs.

• A Practice Improvement Program, which provides training and faculty development at each of the eight AHECs. The program also works with the AHECs in the use of electronic medical records to improve treatment and to conduct research.

• A Family Medicine Fellowship program that will enable family medicine doctors based at the AHECs to spend a few days each month on research projects at the center.

• Designing workshops, seminars and conferences for the professional development and cultivation of professionals and students who wish to support rural areas.

• Providing leadership on new research projects.

“In the near future we want to expand into research projects and policy analysis, things that are impacting rural health in Arkansas,” Bynum said, adding that the center also will play more of an advocacy role.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Related Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; a 540,000-square-foot hospital; a statewide network of regional centers; and six institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, the Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, the Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy, the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, the Psychiatric Research Institute and the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging. UAMS has 2,775 students and 748 medical residents. It is the state’s largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including nearly 1,150 physicians who provide medical care to patients at UAMS, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, the VA Medical Center and UAMS’ Area Health Education Centers throughout the state. Visit or