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Conference highlights healthcare challenges in rural Arkansas

At the recent Rural Health Association of Arkansas conference, a Community Health Center leader shared how his organization has initiated positive change in south Arkansas.

 

“Our mission is not to take over the world but to try to change it and meet whatever [patients] need in their communities,” said Allan Nichols, chief executive officer of Mainline Health Systems, based in Monticello.


Allan Nichols, Mainline Health Systems

Nichols spoke of how Mainline stepped up to the plate to partner with the local hospital.


Turns out, the CHC was a great fit for obstetrician/gynecologist services, which had become a burden on the hospital. Mainline’s primary care patient load had dropped because of a decline in population in the area. So, adding OB/GYN services presented an opportunity for Mainline to grow its patient base.

 

But challenges remain, he told the conference in Little Rock, attended by several dozen rural healthcare providers, administrators, and policy makers.

 

“Healthcare costs are increasing way above inflation,” Nichols said. “There is low reimbursement. And you have to pay doctors 30 percent more to live here [in rural south Arkansas.]”

 

Others pointed out that community health workers can assist rural healthcare providers in tracking patients to make sure they attend their appointments, especially visits for maternal health and for young child care.

 

Craig Wilson, director of health policy at the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, said that quality public health must have contributions from three factors: healthy government and societal systems, healthy communities, and healthy choices by individuals.

 

Craig Wilson, ACHI

But the intersection of those three elements face difficulties in rural Arkansas. With population steadily declining, services and infrastructure that could incentivize a healthy population soon break down, Wilson said.

 

Wilson emphasized the importance of Arkansas' choosing to expand Medicaid, an option provided by the Affordable Care Act.


Ten years ago, the uninsured consisted of 25 percent of adults, 18-64. Now, that figure is 10 percent.

 

State Rep. Aaron Pilkington

During a legislative panel, Rep. Aaron Pilkington of Knoxville stressed the importance of rural parents serving as good examples to their children for buying healthy foods and choosing a proper diet.


Pilkington, an administrator at ARcare, sponsored an unsuccessful bill in 2023 to expand postpartum Medicaid services from two months to 12 months.


Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders said recently she opposes that service increase. Her administration said that mothers can get coverage from the Health Insurance Marketplace or from employer plans. But Pilkington said he planned to keep trying to pass the legislation.

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