Bentonville think tank Heartland Forward, in collaboration with state legislators and government officials, announced Wednesday (Nov. 8) the establishment of the Heartland Health Caucus. The nonpartisan legislative and policy organization comprises health leaders from six states: Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee.
According to a news release, the group will provide a platform for exchanging ideas to address health issues and promote consistent policy approaches across these states.
Wednesday’s announcement precedes the convening of the Heartland Summit, Heartland Forward’s flagship event that assembles prominent figures and practitioners from various sectors, regions and generations to share insights on advancing the heartland. It is intended to be a forum for conversation about shared challenges, creating positive action and strengthening connections.
The two-day, invitation-only gathering takes place Wednesday and Thursday this week at various venues in downtown Bentonville with the theme of “Meet in the Middle.”
“We are thrilled to launch the Heartland Health Caucus, which will be a forum for action to improve the health care outcomes of heartland communities,” Heartland Forward chief executive Ross DeVol said. “The caucus symbolizes the true meaning of a think-and-do-tank to convene and be a resource for states and local communities.”
DeVol said the caucus follows Heartland Forward’s recent report, “Health Care Access in the Heartland.” It includes numerous policy recommendations, including:
- Increasing affordability and reducing complexity of the health care system.
- Addressing health care shortages by increasing access to telehealth.
- Bolstering the health care workforce through increasing the labor supply, streamlining occupational licensure and expanding the scope of practice.
“Heartland Forward is committed to utilizing our research to be a resource for on-the-ground solutions,” DeVol said.
According to the release, the caucus’ objectives are:
- Develop proposals to streamline the healthcare system by advancing state public policy and initiatives aimed at reducing the complexities patients encounter when accessing healthcare services in their communities.
- Promote legislation to address the healthcare needs of the heartland, with a focus on pressing issues such as telehealth, workforce development, and maternal health.
- Advocate for healthcare as an economic issue by supporting legislation, programs, and thought leadership that emphasize how a healthier population contributes to a robust workforce and thriving communities.
State Rep. Ellyn Hefner (D) of Oklahoma and State Rep. Lee Johnson (R) of Arkansas will co-chair the caucus.
“Now is the time to improve the delivery of health services for our communities,” Johnson said. “Thank you to Heartland Forward and all the members of the Heartland Health Caucus for launching this initiative. I am excited to join the Heartland Health Caucus and get to work on these issues.”
Heartland Forward formally launched in the fall of 2019. It is spearheaded by members of the Walton family and led by DeVol, formerly the Milken Institute’s chief research officer. It is the first U.S. think tank focused exclusively on the economic situation of the heartland region.
“Across Oklahoma state, I hear regularly from constituents that we must do more to solve healthcare challenges,” Hefner said. “I believe the time is now to take bold policy actions to improve health care outcomes and I am thrilled to join the Heartland Health Caucus to achieve real results.”