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UAMS Professor partners with Arkansas HBCUs, pell grant students for pilot study

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UAMS Professor partners with Arkansas HBCUs, pell grant students for pilot study

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Odell Johnson, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Southern Public Health and Criminal Justice Research Center (SPAC),is leading a Universal Basic Income (UBI) pilot study linked to the Second Chance Pell Experiment that recently ended in 2023, which is a federal initiative that gives justice- impacted individuals (JII) access to a post secondary education. JIIs are people who have experienced the criminal justice system through either law enforcement engagement that led to arrest and conviction, or incarceration. 

“The goal of the Second Chance program study is to build a community of JII scholars in the field of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) on HBCU campuses in Arkansas,” Johnson said. “We want to increase the number of students, peers, mentors, educators, and community leaders in STEM who have been unjustly impacted and disenfranchised by the mistakes they have made.”

 Johnson — a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Health Behavior and Health Education — is conducting the study through a partnership with Shorter College and Philander Smith University in which he’ll work with Black males, 18-45 years old, who are in the Second Chance program. Johnson will conduct one-on-one interviews and focus groups with the participants and school administrators to determine whether a stipend will make a difference in the lives of the targeted population and improve their overall health and well-being.

 “This project seeks to obtain the perceptions of community stakeholders and Second Chance Pell students about the efficacy of providing a supplemental UBI income of $500 per month for six months,” Johnson said. “We want to reduce the financial burden associated with reentry and to improve health and health-seeking attitudes. We also want to strengthen employability, housing access to increase community sustainability and safety, as well as reduce recidivism.”

 Funded by the National Institute of Health Diversity Supplement for $248,000 over two years, the study began in September 2023. 

“The barriers to wealth for younger Black men have ensured that they often have inadequate incomes to meet their social, material and health needs,” Johnson said.“Incarceration rates for young Black men are disproportionately higher than any other ethnic male group, primarily due to structural racism that exacerbates oppression through excessive punitive sentencing – thus, poverty. 

“There’s a critical need for interventions that facilitate access to appropriate community-based health services, particularly for those who have a history of incarceration,”Johnson stated. “This pilot study aims to address that need and inform health policy by testing a novel intervention  that directly reduces the racial income gap by providing a basic income.” 

Shorter and Philander Smith, both of which are historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) located in central Arkansas, are ideal sites to conduct the study, Johnson added. 

“HBCUs provide quality supportive services for the participants while they’re incarcerated and also upon their release from carceral settings, as it relates to their education,” he said. “HBCUs offer the unique value of a close knit, community culture.”

 Previous research suggests that JIIs receiving an education benefit not only the participant but their surrounding community as well. In fact, because of the benefits, there’s a surge in the number of JIIs requesting to enroll in degree programs in carceral settings and after reentry. 

“A quality education improves public safety, reduces recidivism rates and allows JIIs to come home and become productive members of society,” Johnson said. 

Several decades ago, Johnson was justice-involved, and afterwards entered a degree program, which contributed greatly to getting his life back on track. He is aware of what JIIs need to excel in academia, and life beyond. This pilot study provides an additional means for him to make an impact in Central Arkansas. 

“I myself, am a person who have had experiences with the criminal justice system,” Johnson said. “I have a personal stake in the success of Arkansans who have been impacted. Education was my path to personal redemption and professional development, which has allowed me to become a principal lead research investigator to spear- head this study. “

The program increases educational opportunities that will empower JIIs to become productive citizens in society.”

A statewide business coalition tackling Arkansas’s childcare crisis convened for the first time on Jan. 26 at the Supply Chain Hall of Fame in Rogers. 

Since 2020, Excel by Eight (E8) has mobilized Arkansas businesses to identify workable solutions that address the three critical elements of the childcare crisis – accessibility, affordability, and quality – and its impact on the state’s current and future workforce. 

The formalized business coalition will meet quarterly to discuss policy goals ahead of the Arkansas State Leg- islature’s 2025 general session. E8’s Business Coalition comprises representatives from more than 30 businesses, nonprofits, and chambers of commerce across the state. 

“Quality child care is essential to a thriving Arkansas economy,” said Angela Duran, Excel by Eight executive director. “Working parents need safe, reliable and afford- able childcare to build successful careers, remain contributing members of the workforce, and support their families. Business has long been overlooked as a key component of solving the childcare challenges in Arkansas. We’re thrilled about the momentum this group has to create real change for Arkansas families.” 

“Beyond its impact on the workforce and economy today, if not addressed soon, the infant-toddler childcare crisis has the potential to damage the future workforce by depriving children of nurturing, stimulating environments that support healthy brain development while their parents work,” said Crystal Johnson, president and CEO of the Batesville Area Chamber of Commerce. “We don’t see a downside to supporting these programs and initiatives because studies show high-quality early education provides a 13% return on investment. These programs boost parents’ employment prospects and equip our future workforce with the skills needed for real-world success.” 

The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) in late 2023 recognized 39 hospitals, 48 ambulance services, two regional teams, and two individuals for excellence in stroke patient care. 

The hospital awards are based on stroke care performance as documented in the Arkansas Stroke Registry for July 2022 and June 2023 patient discharges. They are given to hospitals based on the following measures: defect-free stroke care, documentation of stroke bands, and door-to-CT times. Defect-free care is an aggregated metric based on the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA) Coverdell metrics to ensure stroke patients receive appropriate care. Stroke bands allow for improved data collection for quality improvement, and faster door-to-CT times improve the likelihood of better patient outcomes. A hospital must be designated through ADH or a national accreditation body to qualify for this award. 

The EMS awards are based on documentation of stroke bands and pre-notification. When hospital teams are alerted that a suspected stroke patient is en route by EMS, this helps expedite the patient’s care upon arrival.

 Regional recognition is awarded to those geographical areas in Arkansas in which healthcare teams demonstrate the highest level of performance for prenotification, stroke band documentation, and door-to-CT times. 

The Transition of Care Award honors organizations or individuals for the exceptional work they did with stroke patients and their families as part of the transition of care for the patient. 

“We are delighted to see the improvement in stroke care as demonstrated by these hospitals,” said Dr. Bala Simon, Deputy Chief Medical Officer and State Chronic Disease Director at the Arkansas Department of Health. “Through our work with the communities, EMS, and hospitals we hope to improve the quality of stroke care among Arkansans with this devastating condition.” 

Visit https://www.healthy.arkansas.gov/programs- services/topics/arkansas-stroke-registry for a complete listing of all award winners.

CHI St. Vincent, part of the Chicago-based health giant CommonSpirit Health, recently announced plans to open 10 women-focused health clinics across south Arkansas. CHI St. Vincent, which already owns and operates a regional health network serving Central and Southwest Arkansas, said the new ARMOMS Women’s Clinics will offer vital, quality prenatal and postpartum care for pregnant women in underserved areas on select days throughout the week.

 Funded through a $4 million federal grant, the clinics will further CHI St. Vincent’s mission is to provide accessible and quality healthcare throughout the state and to decrease high-risk pregnancy rates in south Arkansas. 

“Every expecting mom should have access to quality care regardless of geography,” CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs President Dr. Doug Ross said. “In many rural areas of the state, mothers have little to no access to prenatal and postpartum care. Through these clinics, we aim to change this reality and help establish the best possible beginning for the next generation as they enter the world.”

 The 10 ARMOMS clinics are in Amity, Bearden, DeQueen, Fordyce, Glenwood, Hampton, Magnolia, Mt. Ida, Murfreesboro and Nashville. The clinics will offer prenatal, antenatal, postpartum care and gynecology services through a dedicated team of healthcare practitioners, including a nurse practitioner, registered nurse, family development specialist and data specialist. An OB/GYN oversees each clinic. 

The ARMOMS program is a network of committed, rural healthcare partners coordinating a continuum of pregnancy services from pre-conception through postpartum. The program builds upon CHI St. Vincent’s Healthy Mom, Thriving Baby Project using proceeds from a $4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services for the next four years. The mission of ARMOMS is to decrease high-risk pregnancy rates across a 6,900-square-mile area, increase access to obstetric care, promote wellness and interrupt cycles of health inequity that lead to Arkansas’ exceptionally high rates of infant and maternal mortality. 

The U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in early February announced that the Department’s Eco- nomic Development Administration (EDA) is investing $7 million in the state of Arkansas. These investments will support healthcare workforce development and criti- cal infrastructure improvements to support current and future business needs. The EDA investments include:

Arkansas State University – Newport will receive a $5 million EDA grant to support construction of a 24,000- square foot Nursing and Health Sciences workforce train- ing center. According to grantee estimates, the project will be matched with $1.3 million in local funds and is expected to create 225 jobs.

The city of Trumann will receive a $2 million EDA grant for construction of a new water treatment facil- ity and groundwater storage tank, to support current residents and businesses while providing capacity for future industrial growth. The project will be matched with $500,000 in local funds. 

“President Biden’s Investing in America agenda is making sure communities in Arkansas and across the country have the resources needed to grow and diversify their economies,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “These EDA investments will support workforce development and infrastructure improvements, creating jobs and fostering business expansion in Northeast Arkansas.”

 “The Economic Development Administration plays an important role in supporting locally developed strategies designed to create economic opportunity,” said Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo. “EDA is proud to support these Arkan- sas communities as they work to provide new economic opportunities for residents and businesses that benefit the entire region.” 

“Sustaining rural communities requires strategic invest- ment that helps create opportunities and enhance quality of life. I’m pleased Trumann and Newport are both benefiting from this federal support to ensure future growth,” said Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas. “The assistance with water infrastructure modernization and new access to medical training will serve not only their needs, but help lead the region toward increased economic development and advancement.”

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