People Statewide Celebrate the Life and Contributions of Joe Bates M.D., M.S.

By Kev' Moye

Bates — a dedicated husband, family man, health leader and humanitarian — was 90.

“Dr. Joe Bates was a giant of a man who had an immeasurable impact on public health and medicine,” said UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, in a statement Friday. “He was instrumental in the development of the UAMS College of Public Health, the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement and in directing tobacco settlement dollars to public health initiatives. He was brilliant and devoted his life to helping ensure better health for his fellow Arkansans. We are forever grateful to him and will do all we can to carry on his legacy.”

“Dr. Bates was a devoted champion of public health,” said Mark Williams, Ph.D., dean of the College of Public Health. “He recognized the difference between clinical medicine and public health and, as importantly, the absolute need for both to improve the health of Arkansans.”

A pioneer in the health industry, Bates was born Sept. 19, 1933. A native of Central Arkansas, Bates attended Hendrix College in Conway and eventually the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He continued his education at the University of Arkansas School of Medicine (now UAMS), where he earned his medical degree.

Bates became a trailblazer who improved the standard of living for generations of Arkansans.

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Dr. Joe Bates (middle) is next to his wife, former UAMS Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health Dean Dr. Jim Raczynski (right) and Dr. Martha Phillips (far left).

“Joe once told me that he always sought to achieve excellence in everything he did, and he did that,” said Jim Raczynski, Ph.D., former dean of the College of Public Health. “Others will talk about his many accomplishments and the range of research and education accomplishments and the impact he had on so many people. However, in addition to his professional feats, on top of it all, he was a good friend. Our lives have been enriched in enumerable ways, both personally and professionally by Joe Bates.”

Joe Thompson, M.D., MPH, is president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI). He’s among the many people who not only viewed Bates as a colleague but as a comrade who could be trusted to provide guidance.

“Joe Bates was an important, inspiring advocate for public health,” Thompson said. “He was a mentor for a generation of medical students and a dear friend who worked tirelessly to improve the health of Arkansans.”

G. Richard Smith, M.D., interim dean of the UAMS College of Medicine, was among the many individuals who Bates trained.

“I was a student of his in internal medicine during my third year of medical school,” he said. “I was an intern in medicine at the Veteran’s Administration Hospital while he was the chief of service. Joe was a longtime mentor for me.

“Joe was very good at making important things happen for the state of Arkansas, for medicine and public health and for UAMS. There are so many people, in my generation especially, who see him as a role model. I believe people in subsequent generations, in public health, view him as a role model as well.”

Among Bates’ accolades that help to comprise his legacy are:

  • Co-creator of a groundbreaking tuberculosis treatment
  • Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Chief Science Officer
  • Member of the UAMS College of Medicine Hall of Fame
  • President of the American Thoracic Society
  • Chief of Medical Services at the Little Rock Veterans Administration Center
  • Co-founder of ACHI
  • President of the American Lung Association
  • Chair of the Little Rock Veterans Administration Department of Medicine
  • Joined other public health experts in lobbying for Arkansas to use a portion of its Tobacco Settlement funding to create a public health college

“Our state, our country and our world are healthier today as a direct result of the dedication and commitment to service exemplified by Dr. Joe Bates,” said Kevin Ryan, J.D., associate professor and associate dean for students and alumni affairs in the College of Public Health.

Perhaps the best indicator of Bates’ contribution to health care is his work to address, and basically end, the tuberculosis epidemic.

Bates co-authored a book, “Stalking the Great Killer: Arkansas’s Long War on Tuberculosis,” earlier this year. The book highlighted the global tuberculosis epidemic and Bates’ role in the overhaul of treatment methods for people who had tuberculosis. It also detailed how his treatment program basically ended the epidemic, not only in Arkansas but also nationally and later worldwide.

“The treatment eventually became popular nationally,” Bates said in a previous UAMS interview. “Within a few years, all the sanatoria nationwide discontinued service. We basically set a standard for treating tuberculosis in hospitals. That’s what the book is about and the history of closing the sanitoriums, including ones outside of the U.S.”

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Dr. Joe Bates visits with the wife and daughter of Dr. Fay W. Boozman — whom the college is named after — during the school’s 20th anniversary gala.

His innovative approach to solving the TB crisis is among the reasons why Thompson referred to Bates as an innovator and outstanding leader.

“His work revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis,” he said. “Dr. Bates played an instrumental role in recruiting noted physicians, researchers and educators to our state throughout his life. He also helped advance professionalism in our Arkansas Department of Health.”

Martha Phillips, Ph.D., former associate professor in the UAMS College of Public Health Department of Epidemiology, admired Bates’ passion to upgrade the state of health for all people. Phillips said his humility and willingness to always present health info greatly impacted her career.

“Dr. Bates was, for me, a valued and trusted colleague, a mentor and a friend,” she said. “We worked together on a variety of projects at ADH and in the College of Public Health. He was always there for sage advice and stimulating discussion.  He helped shape me as a public health professional and as a person.

“He worked hard — and expected everyone else to work at least that hard. He was curious about a wide range of subjects from history to medicine to public health. He read voraciously and thought seriously and deeply about a variety of subjects.”

Bates was adamant about not only passing his knowledge to colleagues, but also to the general public, even when his own health began to wane.

In July, Bates teamed up with Williams to write an op-ed for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on why Arkansas rates low nationally in several health status categories. Also in the same month, he helped to mentor a group of undergraduates during the 2023 Stead Scholars Mentorship program.

The Stead Scholars initiative, established by Bates and the family of the late and former Arkansas Department of Health tuberculosis control officer William Stead, M.D., in 2012, promotes the value of public health through giving college undergraduates an eight-week intensive training in an aspect of public health.

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Dr. Joe Bates shares a laugh with a 2022 Stead Scholars participant, and her family.

Additionally, during his final days — despite being in hospice care — Bates was in contact with College of Public Health faculty and staff advocating for students, doing his part to make sure Arkansas’ public health workforce would continue to expand.

“While in hospice and very ill … one day Joe called me,” Ryan said. “He didn’t call to talk or complain about his condition. Instead, he called to ask about one of his student advisees and to make sure they had what they needed to progress and be successful. That call is a reflection of Joe’s entire life — having a sincere concern about the welfare and well-being of others. I’m a better educator and a better person for knowing Dr. Joe Bates.”

“More than anything, Joe was a champion for the underdog and the underprivileged in Arkansas,” Thompson said. “He felt strongly about providing quality care for all our communities. He wanted equal care for everyone in our state. It’s hard to fathom the number of lives his work has saved in Arkansas and beyond. His legacy will have an enduring impact on the lives of Arkansans for many generations to come.”

Williams called Bates a public health hero who had a revolutionary vision for Arkansas.

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Dr. Joe Bates talks to some of the 2023 Stead Scholars about the importance of public health and its history in Arkansas.

“Dr. Bates is a founding father of the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health,” Williams said. “Without the difficult work he and the committee undertook to persuade Arkansans to use the tobacco settlement to improve the health of the people of Arkansas, the college and several other important health concerns would not exist. His work on behalf of the college and public health in general is a true legacy for Arkansas.

“His vision of what public health could be throughout the state has been a driving force in Arkansas since the late 1950s. It was his dream to have a trained public health professional working in every county.”