It’s been a busy time to be the leader of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
In addition to the daily duties of overseeing education, clinical and research operations, and a sprawling campus of medical professionals across the state, UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson has been active in the legislature, helping fight a pandemic, and setting the system up for growth opportunities.
Patterson was a guest on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics. He said this year’s legislative session was a good one for UAMS.
“First of all, Arkansas Home [ARHOME], so Medicaid expansion persists in the state. That’s great news for everyone across the state. The medical marijuana tax was continued, which is important as we seek National Cancer Institute designation for the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute here at UAMS,” he said.
Patterson points out the funding for NCI was set at $40 million a year by state lawmakers and he noted other preventive care measures that were passed or expanded dealing with everything from diagnostic and therapeutic mammography to colorectal cancer screening to a statewide breast milk bank for mothers and babies.
There were high-profile controversial measures in the legislative session dealing with abortion to transgender care to medical conscience, which would allow healthcare professionals to not provide care if it conflicted with their personal beliefs. Patterson said before implementing policies on some of the high-profile laws, there should be a wait-and-see period for legal challenges to them.
“My suspicion is we’ll have to wait for the judiciary to weigh in on that before we decide what changes we will need to make. Obviously, we’re going to abide by the law of our state. But we also want to make sure that every Arkansan – no matter who you are, what you look like – is going to get the best care available to them,” he said.
In response to Gov. Asa Hutchinson ending the COVID-19 pandemic emergency at the end of May, Patterson said vigilance is still required.
“I think many parts of the state are on a glide path back to normalcy. Our hospitals are going to need to remain vigilant. Keep in mind that, if you look at May of 2021 versus May of 2020, we still have more COVID-19 cases being reported now than we did a year ago. So, we are not totally out of the woods,” he said.
He urged Arkansans to get vaccinated and warned that some counties in the state still have a single-digit vaccination rate.
“COVID-19 is not going to leave those communities,” Patterson said.
CANCER PROGRESS, UA PARTNERSHIP
A week ago, UAMS broke ground on an expanded Radiation Oncology Center, which will be home to Arkansas’ first Proton Center, of which there are fewer than 40 nationwide. The new three-story structure, which will open in 2023, is a partnership with Arkansas Children’s, Baptist Health, and Proton International.
“Proton beam therapy is highly-selected energy that can kill cancer cells without damaging adjacent tissue. It is excellent for solid tumors, brain tumors, spine tumors lung, head, and neck, colon, and some breast cancers. It’s really great for kids with cancer because it can kill cancer cells while leaving growing tissues undamaged. So this is a big advance,” Patterson said.
It will be another important checkbox in UAMS’ effort to be designated as a National Cancer Institute, a move in the works for years that could add about $70 million a year to the state’s economy and draw more research and clinical possibilities to the central Arkansas campus. Patterson said UAMS is “ahead of schedule” in getting NCI designation and he expects the application to be filed in the next two to four years.
In March 2021, UAMS and the University of Arkansas announced UAMS would be the new orthopedic and sports medicine provider for the school’s athletics department. The UA has roughly 460 athletes in 19 intercollegiate sports. The four-year contract started Jan. 1, 2021.
Patterson said the care they will provide will go beyond rehabbing injured athletes and include some preventive care.
“The student athletes at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville deserve the best care,” he said. “We will rehabilitate them and get them back on the field, but it’s also about screening for cardiac issues before we put athletes on the field in the first place. It’s about making sure that our athletes have great care in other areas – gynecologic services, behavioral health services are so important for student athletes, especially in the middle of COVID-19.”
“This is about drawing attention to a world-class sports medicine program. We already have people coming from all over the country to visit this team, to get their expertise. This will draw attention to the great work that they do and we’ll bring more athletes to Northwest Arkansas to get the kind of care that only our UAMS team can provide,” he said.
You can watch Patterson’s full interview in the video below.