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.

Pixabay

Arkansas’s health experts are offering a mixed reaction to a new report that finds our state making small progress in its fight against obesity.

Tonya Johnson, director of nutritional services at UAMS, welcomes the decline from 35.7 to 35.0 percent for Arkansas’s obesity rate as indicated by the State of Obesity report released earlier this month, but she said that far more needs to be done to move the rate down faster.

“We are still not making drastic changes in our overall behaviors,” she said.

npr.org

Ambulatory Surgery Centers are becoming an increasingly popular choice for minor medical procedures like knee surgery and tissue biopsies. Often, they're cheaper and more convenient than hospitals. 

But problems at one such center in Little Rock have garnered national attention, and it's uncertain whether it's indicative of a larger issue.

On July 18, 2014, Faye Watkins got a colonoscopy; a fairly routine, elective procedure that screens for colon cancer. She went to Kanis Endoscopy Center in Little Rock, where its medical director, Dr. Alonzo Williams, performed the procedure.

But when she woke up, she wasn't at the clinic; she was down the street, at Baptist Health Medical Center. Watkins had stopped breathing almost immediately after her procedure. She was revived, but suffered a brain injury from the lack of oxygen.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Holly Parker, 38, does not cover up when she breastfeeds her son Atlas, 1. In fact, he comes and goes as one does a drinking fountain, not a dinner table.

It's convenient for Parker to pull down one side of her loose-collared shirt. As for the exposure, "it helps that I don't have large breasts."

The North Little Rock high-risk obstetrics nurse and lactation counselor is evangelistic about breastfeeding. She fed her oldest, Story, from the breast until she was nearly 4.

Bobby Ampezzan / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

A growing number of Arkansas moms who can't breastfeed are finding milk donors in online communities. Some are turning to online classifieds, where not all of the buyers are new moms.

In a Chick-fil-A parking lot in Maumelle, 30-year-old Mary Catherine Fortier hands Glenda Nielsen, 27, more than $500 for about 1,500 ounces of Nielsen's breast milk.

JERRIKA LONGUEVILLE


Jerrika Longueville is a 28-year-old mother of two in Fayetteville who'd "always known I was planning to breastfeed — never crossed my mind I wouldn't be able to."
 

But Longueville has hypoplasia of the mammary glands. She doesn't have all the glandular tissue needed to produce sufficient milk.

So Longueville has become pretty savvy at finding donated breast milk on social media pages, like the Facebook-based group pages for Human Milk 4 Human Babies and Eats on Feets.

Sarah Whites-Koditschek / ARKANSAS PUBLIC MEDIA

Arkansas is at the forefront of a national experiment to see whether requiring work for health care coverage helps lift people out of poverty.
 
Starting next month, many who are on the state’s low-income health care program, Arkansas Works, must show they are working, volunteering, in school, or getting job training for at least 80 hours each month. The Arkansas Department of Human Services estimates 42,000 Arkansans will be impacted.

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.

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.

Teeth Grow Worse In Arkansas Despite Improved Access To Healthcare

Jul 30, 2017
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.

State Medical Board Drops Review of Execution Drug Purchase

Jun 8, 2017
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.

Begin Shrinking Expanded Medicaid, Legislature Decides

May 2, 2017
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. 

Arkansas Bill To Cap Medicaid Expansion Would Violate Federal Law

Mar 20, 2017
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.

Pages