State Health

Stories about health in Arkansas, from the state Department of Health to campaigns to reduce the number of preventable accidents.

David Goldman / NPR/AP

Arkansas has seen a record number of flu deaths this year, 215, and the severity of the virus has taken Arkansans by surprise.

State chief epidemiologist Dr. Dirk Haselow says the health department doesn’t really know why there were more deaths this year, but one reason could be that Influenza B dominated this year, and it is more deadly that Influenza A.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

When it comes to ballot initiatives, David Couch is a numbers man: for instance, 58 in 2020.

In early March Couch, who's authored or campaigned for more than 20 ballot initiatives, told those gathered at a Rotary Club 99 luncheon that he has ballot language all ready for a personal use or "recreational" marijuana amendment. It's just sitting on his computer.

He just needs to see the question poll at or above 58 percent in Arkansas. Then he will introduce it — the next available presidential election. 

Seth Perlman/AP / National Public Radio

Central Arkansas Water says residents in older homes with lead service pipes will have them replaced this year.

The utility reviewed nearly 6,000 pipes. Just 143 in the area were found to be lead pipes, and a third of those have now been updated.

Jake Harper / Side Effects Public Media

State and local leaders are considering how best to treat Arkansas’s opioid crisis if their coalition lawsuit succeeds against opioid drug makers and distributors.

A group of Arkansas cities and counties made national headlines when it came together last week to launch a lawsuit against 65 opioid drug makers, distributors, and others.

Colin Jorgensen is an attorney for the Arkansas Association of Counties who worked on the lawsuit. He says the case seeks a payout large enough to fix the state’s growing opioid epidemic.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

At the 90-year-old Coker-Hampton Drug Company in downtown Stuttgart, the pharmacist and owner of the last 25 years, James Bethea, is deeply concerned about the reimbursement rates from Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) he believes are putting small pharmacies at risk of losing their businesses.

Bethea has chosen to continue to fill prescriptions even though a recent law in Arkansas allows pharmacists to refuse a sale if it meant that they would lose money due to reimbursement rates being lower than the price of the product.

“Those are our customers, and we’re going to take care of them,” he said.

Katherine Streeter / National Public Radio

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked Arkansas the most obese state in the nation in 2014, the state’s weight epidemic is now leveling off, and health officials hope obesity rates will start to go down.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

It’s a small part of Arkansas's overall budget, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposed $400 million dollar appropriation for the Department of Health next year got a strong review and a rebuke today by legislators at the capital.

"There are not enough votes to cut" the budget, complained state Rep. Doug House (R-North Little Rock), "therefore, I’m going to vote for the ER [executive recommendation], in which case the budget gets drafted, and we’ll fight this battle another day."

"Amen, brother," said Sen. Larry Teague (D-Nashville), Joint Budget Committee co-chairman, after roughly an hour's worth of motions, discussion, voice votes and roll calls.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control

The Arkansas Department of Health is warning residents about a significant influenza outbreak and how best to prepare.

“In a bad flu year, it's estimated a third of the population gets the flu," says Dr. Dirk Haselow, state epidemiologist who is tracking outbreak response. "In Arkansas that would be a million people." 

This influenza season, which began in early December and ends in late March, intensified over the holiday season and is shaping up to be a bad one, Haselow says.

Arkansas’s health groups are reacting to corrective statements the tobacco industry began airing on network TV in late November with some optimism that they will help reduce the state’s high smoking rate as well as concern the ads won’t reach young people.

Ann Kenda / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Soy has been widely accepted as a heart-healthy food for nearly two decades.  Manufacturers of packaged food products have claimed that soy protein reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, and labeled their products thusly.

Now, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration isn’t so sure and is seeking an unprecedented revocation of the authorized claim.  With an authorized claim, manufacturers get a stamp of approval from the FDA to directly state a health benefit — calcium, for instant, helps stymie osteoporosis.

The agency said a review of evidence linking soy protein to improved heart health wasn’t conclusive enough to warrant an authorized claim. 

Douglas Balentine, director of the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling, said studies have evolved since the authorized claim for soy's heart benefits was approved in 1999.

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.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / Arkansas Public Media

Two-year-old Adalynn Landrum lies on a blanket on the floor of her living room. She watches cartoons on a large flat screen television screen hung above a row of stuffed animals placed on a blanket next to her on the floor. Her small face is partially covered by an oxygen feeding cup with a tube connected to a medical cart stationed behind her head. The cart holds an array of devices.

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.

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