UAMS Turns 140 in 2019 with Renewed Energy, Vigor on All Fronts

By Ben Boulden

Also, UAMS organized all of its clinical enterprises in Little Rock and around the state under the UAMS Health umbrella to consolidate programs and realize greater efficiencies in patient care.

For UAMS, 2019 also was a year of grants received for research and awards granted in recognition and praise, and continuing missions in education and patient care.

In February, UAMS promoted two financial officers. Amanda George, CPA, became vice chancellor for finance and chief financial officer of UAMS. Jake Stover took on the role of chief administrative officer and associate vice chancellor for clinical finance with UAMS Health.

Angela Wimmer, M.Ed., who has more than 19 years of fundraising experience, joined UAMS as vice chancellor for institutional advancement.

In June, Brian E. Gittens, Ed.D, M.P.A., began as vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion. Gittens succeeded Billy Thomas, M.D., M.P.H., a neonatologist, who was named UAMS’ first vice chancellor for diversity in 2011.

Along with notable changes in leadership came positive changes for UAMS hourly workers and others. Chancellor Cam Patterson spearheaded the establishment of a $14 minimum wage for hourly employees, a food pantry —Stocked & Reddie — for UAMS workers who are food insecure, and launched a Spread Kindness Campaign to improve service to patients and families and uplift members of the entire workforce.

Attendees at a September vigil marking the passing of Edith Irby Jones light their candles.

Attendees at a September vigil marking the passing of Edith Irby Jones light their candles.

On a sadder note, Edith Irby Jones, M.D., passed away July 15. She was 91. Jones became a pioneer when she enrolled at UAMS in 1948 as the first African American to enroll in an all-white medical school in the South, and who went on to a distinguished career as a doctor, educator and philanthropist.

Because 2019 was such a year of energetic change on all fronts at UAMS, it was fitting that nearing the year’s end the university embarked on a three-year energy project,

The energy project will enable UAMS to address $101 million in maintenance needs, energy efficiency measures and reroute Cedar Street onto a multilane expansion of Pine Street. A new $49 million electrical power plant between those two streets is part of the larger, $150 million, three-year project. Once completed UAMS’ energy efficiency ranking will be in the top 1% of all academic medical centers in the United States.

Other major developments and accomplishments include:


  • U.S. News & World Report in July recognized UAMS as having the best hospital in the state, and its ear, nose and throat department was ranked among the top 50 nationwide.
  • The university in February established the Institute for Digital Health & Innovation, and named Curtis Lowery, M.D., as its director. Digital health is delivering health care through technology such as smart phones, interactive live video, wearable devices and personal computers. It reduces the cost of health care and improves access for patients, especially in a rural environment like the state of Arkansas where some patients have to travel long distances for health care.
  • Patients with diabetes visiting UAMS Family Medicine Clinics throughout the state started receiving a new screening during regular doctor’s visits in an effort to save their vision. The digital health screening sends electronic images of the patient’s eyes to physicians as the UAMS Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute to spot retinal damage from diabetes.
  • Also, UAMS established a digital health spine clinic to allow patients across Arkansas with spinal disorders and spinal cord tumors and patients who have recently undergone surgery to go to the UAMS location closest their homes for a live, high-resolution consultation with a spine specialist.
  • A federal grant in October provided $4 million to the UAMS Institute for Digital Health & Innovation to provide sexual assault nurse examiners to rural hospital emergency departments.
  • The Digital Health Stroke Program achieved a long-sought-after goal — getting more than 50% of stroke patients from hospital arrival to treatment in 60 minutes or less.
  • In January, a group of Arkansas legislators proclaimed their support of a UAMS initiative to expand its cancer research and treatment efforts during an event at the state Capitol. They named the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute’s quest to achieve designation by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as one of the priorities in their Dream Big for Arkansas Initiative. By March, Hutchinson brought the Cancer Institute signed into law a bill establishing an account into which funds supporting the designation effort could be deposited. Before year’s end, $10 million in state funds were committed to the goal.
  • A university search committee in September selected internationally recognized medical oncologist Michael Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., as the new director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. Birrer specializes in gynecologic cancers joined UAMS in December.
  • The Bone Marrow Transplant Program at UAMS in May received an internationally recognized accreditation by the Foundation for the Accreditation of Cellular Therapy (FACT).
  • UAMS in September received a $4.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to improve access to quality health care in rural Arkansas by expanding efforts to train and retain primary care physicians.
  • Breastfeeding at UAMS in November became a little more convenient for employees and visitors alike with the installation of two clean, private Mamava lactation rooms for nursing moms to pump or breastfeed.