Health

From epidemics of flu in the 19th century to the 2016 outbreak of mumps in the state, Arkansas's had a breadth of health scares. Add to that tobacco use and obesity rates that are some of the highest in the country, and coverage of health and health care is a public imperative.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

When the winds are just right on an October afternoon, clouds of smoke can be seen from the rural highways of Mississippi County. 

Once in a while, an out-of-state motorist calls 911 to report a fire, but most people who live and work in the county are familiar with the phenomenon.  It’s agricultural burning, a widely used but controversial practice that allows the farmers to clear their fields quickly after a harvest and get ready for the next season.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Patients awaiting Arkansas's first-in-the-Bible-Belt medical marijuana program will have to demonstrate that other kind of patience.

The agency administering the program has announced that no licenses will be granted this year or perhaps even early next year.

The application period closed Sept. 18 with a surprise, says the Department of Finance and Administration’s Scott Hardin.

National Fallen Firefighters Association

About one in four first responders suffers from moderate to major depression, according to an ongoing University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences study that seeks to examine the effects of job stress on firefighters and emergency medical technicians.

Married to a firefighter herself, Sara Jones, a psychiatric nurse practioner and assistant professor in the College of Nursing at UAMS, said much research has gone into the causes and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans and law enforcement officers but not much is known about the effects of trauma on firefighters and EMT’s.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA


According to the Arkansas Department of Health, rates of mumps infections have reached non-outbreak levels. The last confirmed new case of mumps in Arkansas is now nearly two months old, and officials are marking the end of an outbreak that neared 3,000 cases in just about 12 months.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Willie Freeman says he used to avoid smiling, and if he did, it was in a way almost no one could see, with his mouth closed. He was embarrassed of his rotten teeth.

“I wouldn’t go around people and if I did smile, you know, nobody would see me smile,” said Freeman. “My teeth was so messed up, you know, I had gaps everywhere,” he said sitting in an office at Little Rock’s low-income, non-profit Harmony Health Clinic, waiting for an appointment.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

About one in three Arkansas residents is obese, and doctors say it’s leading to people dying much younger than they need to, and leading unhealthier lives in the meantime.

“They have more co-morbidities, which means they have other disease processes that basically can shorten their lifespans, such as diabetes and hypertension and heart disease,” said Dr. Shane Speights, dean of the New York Institute of Technology's College of Osteopathic Medicine at Arkansas State University.  He said since the human body is not meant to carry hundreds of extra pounds, morbidly obese humans may suffer severe hip, joint, knee or ankle pain.

Arkansas Children's Hospital

A recent report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation Kids Count data center finds that heart disease is the fifth-highest cause of death for children and teenagers in Arkansas. 

At five-percent, heart disease is dwarfed by other causes, such as accidents, which account for 34 percent of childhood deaths. But doctors say heart disease can still endanger kids and put many others at risk for problems in adulthood and lead to heart attacks under the age of 40.

Arkansas Senators Tom Cotton, a member of the Senate healthcare working group, and John Boozman have not given an indication that they would support health legislation projected to cut 22 million people off of Medicaid. Notwithstanding, a vote on the bill has been postponed due to divisions in the Republican Party.

Arkansas Public Media spoke with Sara Rosenbaum, a George Washington University professor and evaluator for the state of Arkansas's expansion program, about the possibility of an end to Medicaid expansion in Arkansas.

Arkansas Department of Correction

The Arkansas State Medical Board dropped a possible investigation Thursday into a Department of Correction-affiliated doctor’s role in obtaining a lethal injection drug.

The board was reviewing whether an ADC doctor might have used his license to help obtain a lethal injection drug from the McKesson Company.

McKesson sued the department in April, claiming a physician’s license on file had been used to purchase the drugs under false pretenses.

Board attorney Kevin O’Dwyer says the board ruled to drop the matter after finding no proof of the doctor’s involvement.

Rusti Barger

Rusti Barger, a stay-at-home mom of six, delivered her first two babies in the local hospital. When she became pregnant a third time in 1999, she and her husband David, from rural Faulkner County, chose to have a home birth. They hired a midwife who instructed her to undergo a state-mandated medical risk assessment. Barger made an appointment at the county public health clinic. And that’s where, she says, things went awry. 

Joe Thompson is CEO of the Arkansas Center For Health Improvement
Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

For lawmakers, caregivers and patients  a solution to the state legislature’s multi-year process of bringing a new type of coordination to a traditional Medicaid population is set to be finalized this summer.

PASSE, or Provider-led Arkansas Shared Savings Entity, will be a new oversight entity made up of nonprofit and for-profit health providers to manage the care of the state’s medically needy Medicaid population. It includes the elderly, developmentally disabled and mentally ill. The deadline for these companies to apply to be in PASSE is June 15, according to the Department of Human Services and the Arkansas Insurance Department.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Arkansas's General Assembly has given initial approval to healthcare changes not possible under President Obama. 

The modifications would move about 60,000 out of the subsidized Medicaid expansion that took place after the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and under the guidance of Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe. These recipients would become customers in the regular exchange. The changes also include new Medicaid work requirements.  

A final vote is expected Wednesday morning.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Echo Soza lives at Our House, a homeless shelter for the working poor in Little Rock. The 47-year-old housekeeper was uninsured a few years ago when she had a stroke.    

“I actually was hospitalized and then lost my housing and then came here,” she says.  

Arkansas Suicide Prevention Hotline Bill Heads To Full Senate

Mar 22, 2017
LA Johnson / National Pubic Radio

Arkansas’s first non-natural cause of death is by suicide, just slightly ahead of car accidents, and more than twice as often as homicide, according to the  Arkansas Department of Health.

It is also one of two states in the nation without a state suicide hotline. 

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

A bill to cap the number of enrollees in the state’s Medicaid expansion pool at its current rate, roughly 332,000, is progressing through the Arkansas legislature despite violating federal law.

HB1465, sponsored by Rep. Josh Miller, (R-Herber Springs), passed the full House earlier this month and is scheduled to go before the Senate Public Health, Welfare, and Labor committee Wednesday.

Approved by the legislature and then-Gov. Mike Beebe in 2013 as the Private Option, the state's response to the Affordable Care Act of 2009 provides health coverage for low-income Arkansans. It was rebranded by Gov. Asa Hutchinson as Arkansas Works in 2015.

The federal government currently pays for 95 percent of the Medicaid expansion costs, and that is slated to drop to 90 percent in 2020.

“It’s not a boon to the people of Arkansas,” said Miller.

Bobby Ampezzan / Arkansas Public Media

The same week that federal Republicans unveiled a proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the ARKids First program which they say sent the state’s uninsured rates for children plummeting from 25 percent to less than five percent.

ARKids First offers a Medicaid option for kids from low-income families as well as a second option for kids from moderate-income families.  Two parents with two kids on a household income of less than $51,273 would be eligible for ARKids B, while a single parent with one child and an income of less than $22,748 would be eligible for the Medicaid option.  The program is not often referred to as Medicaid but simply as ARKids First.

J. Froelich / Arkansas Public Media

Last May, sisters Anais, Elise and Emory Bowerman spent the night at a Girl Scout slumber camp in Lowell. The girls came home the next day covered with ticks. 

“One second my life was going great," says Anais, 11. "Then a tick bites me and it’s all ruined.”

Anais, a budding artist, says her hands started to shake. Her sisters Elise, 10, and Emory, 7, also started to feel ill.

“I threw up twice," Emory says. "I felt sluggish and my head was kind of dizzy.” 

Ann Kenda / Arkansas Public Media

Sales tax on soda will go up from 1.5% to 6.5% in Arkansas next year, under a bill signed by Gov. Hutchinson that aims to raise millions for military retiree tax cuts.  The increase is coupled with a tax reduction on the wholesale price for the syrup used by beverage makers, which has advocates for the poor complaining that the higher tax will be paid only by consumers.

The increase comes at a time when soda has largely fallen out of favor with consumers, as they seek healthier alternatives.  PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP) spent its advertising dollars this year on a 30 second ad during the Super Bowl promoting its new LIFEWTR premium bottled water instead of its traditional cola drinks.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek/Arkansas Public Media

In Washington the Republican-controlled Congress is speeding toward a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. While GOP leadership at the Arkansas state Capitol has said lawmakers should wait and see what happens, some conservative members of the legislature want action now.

Arkansas Public Media

For most questions on Arkansas's Medical Marijuana Amendment, the refrain from the state's Department of Finance and Administration as well as its Department of Health has been consistent and continual: the answers are right there in the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment.

Bobby Ampezzan/ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansans with certain ailments may look forward this morning to a prescription marijuana option in the near future. Voters approved ballot issue 6, the so called Medical Marijuana referendum, 53 percent to 47 percent last night.

Lawyer David Couch was the ballot issue’s biggest advocate. He said there are perhaps tens of thousands of Arkansans who already use marijuana for medicinal reasons, and the vote will simply move them into a “legitimate marketplace.”

SARASOTA HERALD-TRIBUNE

Arkansas voters will decide to legalize medical marijuana November 8th. But medicinal hemp is already available for purchase over-the-counter.

Hemp, like marijuana, contains non-psychoactive cannabidiol, an ingredient in supplements and creams boasting this active ingredient are best sellers at Ozark Natural Foods in Fayetteville, says wellness manager, Carrie Hilderbrandt.

“We carry a wide variety of soft gels, liquids, oral applicators, lozenges and topical balms.”

This member-owned cooperative, the only store like it in Arkansas, sells two brands of hemp-based cannabidiol products, one organic and the other conventionally grown, ranging in price from $20 to $70.

NPS

Arkansas woodworker Doug Stowe and his spouse Jean Elderwind, a retired county librarian, live peacefully on a forested ridge above Leatherwood Creek north of Eureka Springs. 

Late last winter, the peace was broken.

“That’s when we noticed our rock walls that my wife and I have been tending for thirty years were being pushed aside and toppled, the dirt thrown aside,” and the long-established perennials upended, Stowe says.

The couple thought it was a one-time occurrence and paid to have the damage repaired. But then it happened again. And again. They were mystified.

Johnelle Shaw is a 27-year-old first-time mother with a two-month old son, Logan. She is visiting a lactation consultant at The Pulaski County Health Unit in Southwest Little Rock. Logan has a cold and is back for a breastfeeding check-in.  The consultant weighs him in at 7.6 ounces, a full pound bigger than he was at his last visit a month before.

With virtually no notice from the Arkansas Health Department and no word from the media, legislators reversed direction last month and renewed the state’s contract with Denver-based National Jewish Health and its 1-800-QUIT-NOW hotline for smokers.

A contract worth more than $1.8 million was reviewed by a Legislative Council subcommittee on Aug. 16 and accepted by the entire council three days later. The new expiration is June 30, but state Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) says the end is nearer than that.

Public health officials in Arkansas and nationally are monitoring the spread of the Zika virus following the births of thousands of babies with microcephaly.

120 students in white doctor coats stood proudly on the Riceland Hall stage in the Fowler Center, reciting the “student pledge of commitment” with the goal of accomplishing a dream.  A dream to practice medicine.

The students are the culmination of a dream for a medical school to be in Northeast Arkansas at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.  They are the inaugural class of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine at A-State—the first Osteopathic Medical school in the state.

This summer, Arkansas is fighting back.

Back against a population of blood-sucking ticks that’s abundant, active and virulent.

Scientists from a half dozen state agencies and institutions have banded together to target these tiny terrors, not for termination but for a count, a dissection at most.

  

  Housed deep inside Education Building Two on the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences campus is the state’s only dedicated repository for medical history, devices and photographs, and physician’s personal papers.