University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Chancellor Cam Patterson is trumpeting the administration’s efforts to bring the state’s teaching hospital from a $72 million deficit back into the black in a new message to staff and supporters.

Patterson says fiscal year 2019 ended with UAMS $40 million above budget, some of which was given back to remaining employees (250 jobs were cut in 2018) in raises and lump-sum payments of 1 percent of their salaries.

He praises “the vision” of the legislature and Governor Hutchinson for new funding to support UAMS’ push to become designated as a National Cancer Institute. UAMS is set this fiscal year to begin receiving at least $10 million per year towards that goal. One dark irony not mentioned: The legislation to provide the new money was effectively written by tobacco lobbyists. Max has written often about the chicanery behind the new funding.

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Patterson also celebrates a $24.2 million, five-year Clinical and Translational Science Award for UAMS’ Translational Research Institute.

With an estimated 800 UAMS employees or students who are food-insecure, he noted the campus established a food pantry and all employees are making at least $14 hourly effective this month.

Patterson mentions the filling of several new leadership positions at the hospital, and state and federal legislative buy-in to the hospital’s mission, as well as updates to UAMS’s regional campuses — with the possibility of an additional campus in El Dorado. There were also advances and awards in research, including using a laser to kill circulating tumor cells in the blood of melanoma patients. But one of the most intriguing mentions was of the installation of Sally the Salad Robot, “who is now serving custom-made salads.”

 

Dear Team UAMS,

 

The old adage “what a difference a year makes” could very well have been written about UAMS. However, the transformation that has taken place here over the last 12-18 months can’t be attributed to the passage of time; rather it is the direct result of your dedication and hard work.

 

When I began as chancellor in June of last year, UAMS was still recovering from a financial crisis that at its worst point included a projected $72 million deficit. Early 2018 was a very anxious period that necessitated tough choices including job cuts and the loss of 250 team members. Cost-saving initiatives were implemented, efficiencies were realized and the ship began to turn around under the leadership of Provost and then Interim Chancellor Stephanie Gardner. As a result, UAMS ended that fiscal year stronger than before and only $15 million in the red.

 

Those tough decisions and your teamwork allowed us to begin fiscal year 2019 with the first balanced budget in many years. UAMS was in a position to grow programs and work with our state’s leaders to realize its potential as the state’s health sciences university and academic medical center. It also allowed us to end FY2019 in a position of strength and $40 million ahead of budget. As discussed below, we decided to give some of this excess back to you in the form of salary increases and lump-sum payments.

 

Over the past several months, I have periodically reviewed some highlights of your accomplishments. As we begin fiscal year 2020 and plot our path ahead, I would like to look back at just a few of the things that have happened over the last year. Please remember that this is by no means a comprehensive list. It would be impossible to note all of your good work.

 

Vision 2029 Strategic Plan

 

In order to move ahead, it was imperative that we have a strategy — a road map to guide us. After months of work by a team led by Dr. Gardner, a plan was written and Vision 2029 was finalized. The process included input from many members of Team UAMS through Town Hall meetings, one-on-one conversations and surveys, Vision 2029 was finalized. This plan is posted on the intranet and our website. It is a living document that will be updated as situations change over the next decade. I want to commend Dr. Gardner and everyone for your roles in making this happen.

Employee and Student Well-being

With the approval of the state department of Higher Education and the Arkansas General Assembly, we took steps to ensure that all UAMS employees would make at least $14 an hour, effective July 1.
We established “Stocked & Reddie,” our UAMS food pantry to assist an estimated 800 employees and students who struggle with food insecurity.
All Team UAMS members received a one-time, lump-sum payment equal to 1 percent of salary in June in recognition of your contributions in helping UAMS achieve better than budget year-end results.
We established a UAMS-wide wellness program under the leadership of Natalie Cannady, former fitness center manager, to help our employees not only perform well on the job but also enjoy healthy and fulfilling lives.
We completed the first survey to measure employee engagement and reinstated employee evaluations as we look forward to being in a position in the next year to reward employees with merit raises.
We established an employee appreciation program, including the monthly selection of an employee MVP, installed a special employee appreciation wall outside the chancellor’s suite and began an internal Spread Kindness Campaign.
We held the first UAMS-wide holiday celebration in November. Kudos to everyone involved, especially Tonya Johnson, director of Nutrition Services, and her team. They prepared more than 9,000 meals.
We began offering healthier food options in our cafeteria and other food service locations. A great addition was the installation of Sally the Salad Robot who is now serving custom-made salads in our Lobby Café.

 

CTSA

 

Under the leadership of Dr. Laura James, director of the Translational Research Institute, we were able to renew our Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. This $24.2 million, five-year award will accelerate research that addresses Arkansas’ biggest health challenges. UAMS is one of about 50 CTSA sites around the country.

 

A major emphasis of the award is research partnerships with Arkansas communities to ensure that research supported by the institute aligns with the priorities and needs of Arkansans. We were fortunate to have the support of U.S. Sen. John Boozman with our application for the award. His help was critical, and we are very grateful to him.

 

National Cancer Institute Designation

 

Thanks to the vision of the state Legislature and Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and the advocacy of our supporters, the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute took a giant step toward achieving its goal of National Cancer Institute designation during the last legislative session. This current fiscal year, UAMS will begin receiving a minimum of $10 million a year in state support to help us with this goal.

 

This support of NCI designation from the state of Arkansas will translate into better cancer research and therapies, a $72 million economic impact on our state and will create nearly 1,600 jobs over time.

 

New Leadership

 

We added new leaders across our institution in FY2019. In the first quarter of FY2020, we have welcomed Dr. Mark Williams as dean of the College of Public Health, and look forward to two other leaders joining us — Dr. Cindy Stowe as dean of the College of Pharmacy and Dr. Danielle Lombard-Sims as vice chancellor for Human Resources.
Other new leaders announced earlier in the year included Angela Wimmer, vice chancellor for institutional advancement; Christina Clark, chief operating officer and vice chancellor for support services; Amanda George, chief financial officer and vice chancellor for finance; Brian Gittens, vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion; Dr. Chris Westfall, dean of the College of Medicine; Dr. Susan Long, dean of the College of Health Professions;Dr. Shuk-Mei Ho, vice chancellor for research; Dr. Rick Smith, director of the Psychiatric Research Institute; Dr. Pearl McElfish as vice chancellor of the Northwest Regional Campus; and Amy Wenger, chancellor’s chief of staff. Dr. Stephanie Gardner, our provost, also took on the added role of chief strategy officer.
We continue to narrow our search for the director of the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and expect to make an announcement soon.

 

Institute for Digital Health & Innovation

 

We created the Institute for Digital Health & Innovation and named Dr. Curtis Lowery, former chair of obstetrics and gynecology and director of the Center for Distance Health, as its inaugural director. This new institute better positions UAMS for the future by embracing technology like our smart phones that will help reduce the cost of health care by improving access for patients, especially those in the rural areas of Arkansas. This will allow us to ensure access to UAMS through technology and more partnerships across the state. We want to provide care to people where they live whenever possible.

 

Governmental Relations

 

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and members of the state Legislature and our congressional delegation have been extremely supportive of UAMS and our mission over the last year.

 

As I noted above, Gov. Hutchinson and the state legislature approved $10 million in annual state support for our quest for NCI Designation. State Sen. Missy Irvin and state Rep. Michelle Gray were the lead sponsors on the legislation regarding NCI.

 

In addition, the Governor and members of our state legislature have toured the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute and visited UAMS many times over the last year.

 

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton and his family toured our neonatal intensive care unit and spoke with families whose children are in the NICU. U.S. Sen. John Boozman played an integral role in our CTSA grant and continues to work with us on other important matters including graduate medical education.

 

I have traveled the state extensively and held more than 70 meetings with local and state officials over the last year. I very much appreciate their making time to talk with us and share their opinions on how we can improve our service to the state.

 

Northwest Arkansas Regional Campus

 

We received final national accreditation of our Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program, and the first class of graduates from that program received a 100%pass rate on their national board examinations. Only 8%of PT programs in the country achieve a 100%pass rate, much less with the first class, so this is a remarkable achievement.
We continue working with the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, on our joint occupational therapy program. We hope to welcome students into that program next year.
Dr. Linda Worley was named College of Medicine associate dean for the Northwest Regional Campus.
Jay Gandy, who has been serving as interim dean of the College of Public Health, was named associate provost for the Northwest Regional Campus.
We continue working with the Northwest Council and other leaders in the area on expanding programs in all of our mission areas in Northwest Arkansas.
We celebrated the life and legacy of Lawrence Schmieding at a ceremony at the UAMS Schmieding Center, just a few weeks after the Schmieding Foundation donated the center to the UAMS.
The Office of Community Health and Research surveyed more than 200 food pantries to better understand healthy food access and distribution across Arkansas. They also enrolled about 300 participants in the Marshallese Diabetes Prevention Program and helped Springdale schools make nutrition changes that impact 23,000 students.

 

Regional Campuses

 

We opened new Family Medical Centers on our regional campuses in Fort Smith, Batesville and Pine Bluff.
We celebrated the 40th anniversary of our Northeast Regional Campus in Jonesboro.
We opened a family medicine residency program at our location in Batesville and cut the ribbon on a new family medical center there.
We completed the migration of our electronic health record to a singular platform for all regional campuses.
We are working with leaders in El Dorado to open a regional campus site there. It would join the one we have in Magnolia as we strive to better serve south Arkansas.

 

Patient Care

 

UAMS became the first and only hospital in the state certified by the Joint Commission as a comprehensive stroke center.
We resumed our cardiothoracic surgery program.
We announced a new chief of cardiology, Dr. Paul Mounsey, who will join Team UAMS in October.
UAMS Orthopaedic surgeons began seeing patients at Baptist Health in Conway.
We began offering room service to hospital patients.
We continued to focus on process improvement efforts in care management, quality, safety, revenue cycle and clinical documentation, yielding significant cost savings.
We signed an affiliation agreement with Arkansas Children’s Hospital, ensuring the continuation of the longtime alliance between our two institutions.
Through an agreement with the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Arkansas, a 2000-square-foot area on the fifth floor of the hospital is being renovated to provide space for families of babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. The Ronald McDonald Family Room is the first one in Central Arkansas and will include up to four overnight rooms for parents and siblings of patients in the UAMS NICU and a common area for day use by up to 64 NICU families. While parents have been able to stay with their infants in their room, the NICU has not been able to accommodate overnight stays by families with older children inside the hospital.

 

Education

 

We finalized preparations for a culinary medicine program that will be offered to medical students in the spring as an elective and will include interprofessional programs.
We graduated more than 860 students in all five colleges and our graduate school at commencement exercises in May.
The College of Medicine had its most successful Match Day ever. This year, 160 students were appointed to residencies, the largest-ever number of UAMS graduates matching. Every student who sought a residency position received one.
Two new medical residency programs, a product of an ongoing partnership between UAMS and Baptist Health, welcomed their first 24 residents. The three-year programs in internal medicine and family medicine, which will train up to 12 new residents each year are aimed at increasing the number of new physicians beginning their careers in Arkansas.
We received approval for a nurse anesthetist program in the College of Nursing and hired Dr. Michele Gonzalez as its director. The college is working toward achieving program accreditation and the first students arriving next year.

Research

 

Dr. Clint Kilts, director of the Brain Imaging Research Center at the Psychiatric Research Institute, was named an Arkansas Research Alliance Scholar. He also leads the UAMS Addiction Research Training Program, which this year was awarded a $2.1 million T32 grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a part of the National Institutes of Health.
ARresearch.org, TRI’s innovative approach to finding research volunteers, reached 5,000 registrants, volunteers who are available to participate in UAMS studies. You can participate by clicking on www.arresearch.org and registering.
A UAMS research team led by Dr. Vladimir Zharov, professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, demonstrated the ability to detect and kill circulating tumor cells in the blood of patients with melanoma using a Cytophone, a noninvasive device that integrates a laser, ultrasound and phone technologies. Their work was published in Science Translational Medicine.
Dr. Robert J. Reis, professor in the Department of Geriatrics, was part of an international research collaboration that discovered that aging in worms can be slowed and reversed by a number of FDA-approved drugs, findings that have the potential to extend human lifespan. Their work was published in Scientific Reports.
Dr. Jean McSweeney, associate dean in the College of Nursing, whose research first identified different heart attack symptoms in women, was named the American Heart Association’s National Volunteer of the Year.

 

In closing, I just want to thank you all for your support and teamwork. This last year has been much more than I could ever have imagined. I was humbled to be invested in the Harry P. Ward Distinguished Chancellor’s Chair, following in the footsteps of great UAMS leaders including Dr. Ward, and former chancellors I. Dodd Wilson and Dan Rahn.

 

I have been touched by your collegiality and absolutely blown away by your talent and the work you have accomplished. I have said it before, but I truly believe that coming to Arkansas and UAMS was the wisest decision my family and I have ever made. I am excited about the trajectory UAMS is on, and I look forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in the future.