UAMS Receives Nearly $3 Million to Address Health Disparities

By Spencer Watson

“Northwest Arkansas is an area with the largest number of Marshallese and Hispanic residents in the state. These populations are rapidly increasing and have significant health disparities,” said UAMS Northwest Vice Chancellor Peter Kohler, M.D., a distinguished professor in the College of Medicine and co-principal investigator for the CDC grant.

“This grant will fund efforts to drive down chronic disease problems and costs in the region by increasing access to opportunities for chronic disease prevention and risk reduction and increasing access to environments with healthy food options, among other objectives,” Kohler said.

Chronic disease prevention, Kohler noted, not only improves patients’ quality of life but provides economic benefits as well. According to projections by the Milken Institute, chronic disease cost Arkansas’ economy approximately $25 billion last year, including treatment and lost productivity. That cost is projected to rise to $42 billion annually within a decade without better prevention and management education.

In 2013, UAMS Northwest appointed Pearl McElfish the director of research to begin building a research and community-based program infrastructure with the goal of addressing health disparities, including high incidences of chronic disease in underserved populations. In less than two years, the community-based program has established six active projects that have been awarded $5.1 million in funding.

“The CDC award is part of our community-based participatory program,” said McElfish, co-principal investigator. “This means we engage the community in research and community health projects that address topics that are important to the underserved.”

While northwest Arkansas continues to enjoy economic growth and counts itself a statewide leader in health outcomes, there are communities that are left out of that prosperity and excluded from equitable health care, she said.

“We are committed to research and programs that will lead to transformation and reduction of those health inequalities and costs,” McElfish said.

The grant project is facilitated by a coalition that includes UAMS and its Family Medical Centers in Fayetteville and Springdale, Arkansas Department of Health, Feed Communities, Endeavor Foundation, Northwest Arkansas Council, Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese, Gaps in Services to the Marshallese Task Force, Univision Arkansas and Arkansas League of United Latin American Citizens.

The CDC grant is through the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) initiative, which is part of a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The initiative supports public health efforts to reduce chronic diseases, promote healthier lifestyles, reduce health disparities, and control health care spending. REACH is financed in part by the Prevention and Public Health Fund of the Affordable Care Act.

Overall, HHS awarded $35 million in new grants to 49 local health agencies. Awardees include local governmental agencies, community-based nongovernmental organizations, tribes and tribal organizations, Urban Indian Health Programs, and tribal and intertribal consortia. They will use public health strategies to reduce tobacco use and exposure, improve nutrition, increase physical activity, and improve access to chronic disease prevention, risk reduction, and management opportunities.

UAMS is the state's only health sciences university, with colleges of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Health Professions and Public Health; a graduate school; hospital; a main campus in Little Rock; a Northwest Arkansas regional campus in Fayetteville; a statewide network of regional campuses; and seven institutes: the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, Jackson T. Stephens Spine & Neurosciences Institute, Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Psychiatric Research Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Translational Research Institute and Institute for Digital Health & Innovation. UAMS includes UAMS Health, a statewide health system that encompasses all of UAMS' clinical enterprise including its hospital, regional clinics and clinics it operates or staffs in cooperation with other providers. UAMS is the only adult Level 1 trauma center in the state. U.S. News & World Report recognized UAMS Medical Center as a Best Hospital for 2021-22; ranked its ear, nose and throat program among the top 50 nationwide for the third year; and named five areas as high performing — colon cancer surgery, diabetes, hip replacement, knee replacement and stroke. Forbes magazine ranked UAMS as seventh in the nation on its Best Employers for Diversity list. UAMS also ranked in the top 30% nationwide on Forbes’ Best Employers for Women list and was the only Arkansas employer included. UAMS has 2,876 students, 898 medical residents and six dental residents. It is the state's largest public employer with more than 10,000 employees, including 1,200 physicians who provide care to patients at UAMS, its regional campuses, Arkansas Children's, the VA Medical Center and Baptist Health. Visit or Find us on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram.