Arkansas House and Senate Public Health Committees Hold Meeting at UAMS

By Benjamin Waldrum

Sen. Cecile Bledsoe and Rep. Jack Ladyman co-chaired the meeting, which was held in the Hospital Lobby Gallery on the Little Rock campus.

Cam Patterson

“We can’t do what we do every day without the support from each one of you,” Patterson said.Benjamin Waldrum

UAMS Chancellor and UAMS Health CEO Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, thanked legislators for their commitment to UAMS, and then spoke about the institution at large.

“We can’t do what we do every day without the support from each one of you,” Patterson said. “As you look around this campus and across the state, I hope you’re proud of the fruits of your labor. As the state’s only academic medical center, we belong to the state of Arkansas.”

Patterson cited recent successes at UAMS, including the 20th anniversary of the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health, as well as the near-completion of a $150 million energy project that has drawn national attention for its cost savings.

Nirvana Manning, M.D., chair and associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Jennifer Callaghan-Koru, Ph.D., MHS, an associate professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine, presented on the state of maternal health in Arkansas.

They cited statistics showing that maternal mortality in the United States has doubled in the past 20 years. According to last year’s legislative report by the Arkansas Maternal Mortality Review Committee, in 2018, 30 Arkansas women died during pregnancy or within one year postpartum.  While deaths are the most tragic adverse maternal outcome, they are only the tip of the iceberg, the report said. For every death there are at least 10 times the number of cases of severe morbidity related to pregnancy, which is an “unexpected outcome of labor and delivery that results in significant short- or long-term consequences to a woman’s health.”

The vast majority of those deaths are preventable, Callaghan-Koru said.

Goelke, Cheema, Dahlem

UAMS medical students Mackenzie Goelke, Faizan Cheema and Darynne Dahlem hold up signs showing the state legislators from their home districts.Benjamin Waldrum

“Every maternal death is a profound tragedy for that family,” Callaghan-Koru said. “There’s a lot that we can do to better meet these women where they are, so that they can have healthy pregnancies and be there for their children.”

Access to maternal health care is one of the biggest issues affecting families, Manning said. She listed several advances made to increase access and quality of care, and highlighted opportunities that could help patients, including further investment in digital health.

“We know families cannot come to Little Rock every time and nor should they have to,” Manning said. “If we can provide some of that care close to where they are, it’s better for families, it’s better for patients, and it’s easier for providers.”

Laura Dunn, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry in the College of Medicine and director of the Psychiatric Research Institute, briefed the legislators on UAMS AR ConnectNow, a 24/7, comprehensive behavioral health program launched in 2020. The program became a much-needed service for many Arkansans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think of UAMS AR ConnectNow as an airport where people come in, we try to figure out where they need to go and then get them there,” Dunn said. “We would like to increase our focus on youth and create more of a digital on-ramp — a chat, text, an app — a way that people can gain access without having to dial a phone number.”

Dunn cited an ongoing mental health crisis among youth in the United States and Arkansas, along with a shortage of providers, as evidence for further development of UAMS AR ConnectNow.

Each speaker responded to questions from legislators after their presentation and shared supplemental information that they could take back to their constituents. After the meeting, legislators took time to meet UAMS students from their districts and exchange contact info.