Sept. 23, 2016 | Approximately 200 business and community leaders from across northwest Arkansas gathered Sept. 14 at the invitation of Johnelle Hunt to launch the inaugural chapter of Friends of UAMS – Northwest Arkansas.
Held on the spacious 10th floor of the recently opened Hunt Tower in Rogers, guests enjoyed an evening of food and conversation about UAMS, the state’s only academic health sciences center.
Honorary co-hosts for the evening were Marilyn Bogle, Cindy and Dewitt Smith, and Nancy and Dick Trammel. Bogle, a noted philanthropist, is the wife of Bob Bogle, who was the first manager of Walton’s Five and Dime in Bentonville, a predecessor to Walmart. Dewitt Smith and Dick Trammel are members of the UAMS Foundation Fund Board.
Stormy weather prompted a last-minute relocation from the tower’s second-floor open balcony to the unfinished 10th floor. Overhead lights were quickly installed, chairs set and a podium placed. Eventually, the clouds gave way to clear skies and a spectacular sunset.
“This is not a fundraiser, but you know, I’ve decided to turn it into one, because as you can see, I need some money to finish out this floor,” joked Hunt.
Hunt, a Heber Springs native, co-founded J.B. Hunt Transport Services with her husband, the late Johnnie Bryan “J.B.” Hunt, in 1961. In 1969, the Hunts bought five used trucks and seven trailers. Today, the Fortune 500 company boasts $6.2 billion in sales and employs nearly 16,000 drivers. Hunt, who retired from the board in 2008, remains its biggest individual shareholder. She is a former member of the UAMS Foundation Fund Board.
“We’ve been fortunate to have UAMS here in northwest Arkansas for a long time,” Hunt said. She thanked members of the UAMS Foundation Fund Board and UAMS Northwest Arkansas Campus Advisory Board for their support of the regional campus.
Hunt reserved special praise for “my very, very special friend,” James Y. Suen, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at UAMS. Suen, who has chaired the department since 1974, recently announced he would step down as chair. Suen will continue his practice at UAMS.
“He has to continue to see patients, because he knows if he stopped, he’d just see me showing up at his door,” Hunt said.
In recognition of his long and distinguished service to UAMS and Arkansas, Hunt presented Suen with a model J.B. Hunt trailer that had been signed by J.B. Hunt himself.
“It’s really a big honor for me to be here and see so many friends, and see all of you who are supporters of UAMS,” Suen said. “UAMS represents the entire state, and northwest Arkansas is part of our UAMS family.”
Trammel then took the stage to introduce UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D. “Dr. Rahn has been a big advocate for the expansion of UAMS Northwest,” he said.
Rahn thanked Hunt for hosting and acknowledged those co-hosting. He recognized Suen as “a tower, tirelessly committed to clinical work, to education, to advancing knowledge of critical care,” and recognized as well the extraordinary work of Kent Westbrook, M.D., distinguished professor in the UAMS College of Medicine.
He also recognized Peter Kohler, M.D., and Pearl McElfish, Ph.D. Kohler is retiring Dec. 31 as vice chancellor of UAMS’ northwest Arkansas campus. McElfish will lead the campus as associate vice chancellor for the Northwest Regional Campus. She is also director of the Office of Community Health and Research and co-director of the Center for Pacific Islander Health.
“Our presence in northwest Arkansas has grown dramatically,” Rahn said. “We’ve got over 300 employees, we have an annual spend of more than $25 million, we’ve got 225 or 230 students, and that grows every year. A lot of this is directly attributable to Pete’s leadership.”
Also attending were Pope Moseley, M.D., UAMS executive vice chancellor and dean of the College of Medicine; Cherry Duckett, vice chancellor for Institutional Relations; C. Lowry Barnes, M.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery; and Jeanne Wei, M.D. Ph.D., professor of geriatrics and chairman and executive director of the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging.
Attending from the UAMS Foundation Fund Board in addition to Smith and Trammel were William E. Clark II, chair; Patti Bailey, past chair; and Mary Beth Brooks, Lewis E. Epley Jr., Charles L. Goforth and Charles E. Scharlau III. Twenty-one members of the Northwest Arkansas Campus Advisory Board attended, including Kristen Boozman and Carl Collier, Pharm.D.
Rahn spoke on the importance of UAMS as the state’s only academic health sciences center.
“We’re unique,” Rahn said. “We integrate activities to focus on better health today, better health for the future, for everybody. Everything we do is interrelated.”
“Fifty-eight percent of the practicing physicians in Arkansas, everywhere, graduated from the College of Medicine and UAMS, or from a residency program there,” Rahn said. “Nearly half of the family physicians in Arkansas did a residency program in our regional family medicine residency programs, one of which is, of course, here in northwest Arkansas.”
Rahn also mentioned the variety of care and specialized services UAMS provides that are not routinely available in community settings, as well as the emphasis it places on research.
“In northwest Arkansas, we have an amazing array of more than 30 separate programs,” Rahn said. “Every one of them involves one or more partners.”
The challenge that UAMS faces now for northwest Arkansas, Rahn said, is enhancement.
“The first thing was responding to opportunities to make sure that we were adequately addressing a need, and that we were enhancing what’s already here,” Rahn said. “Now, we need to say: what do we want to be when we grow up?”
The way to achieve growth in northwest Arkansas, Rahn said, is through partnerships.
Rahn mentioned The Partnership for a Healthy Arkansas, a Shared Services Organization —made up of UAMS, Washington Regional Medical Center in Fayetteville, Baptist Medical Center, St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro, and Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield — created to improve health care quality and lower health care costs for patients and providers throughout Arkansas.
“Another real anchor partnership is the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville,” Rahn said. “We are geographically separated by 180 miles, but we need to remove that distance as a barrier and create integrated, thematic approaches to research to enhance knowledge.”
Rahn asked everyone to advance the vision of UAMS in northwest Arkansas and across the state. “We all need to be on the same team and pulling in the same direction,” Rahn said. “UAMS can grow its presence significantly here, but we can only do it if we form the right kind of partnerships and are smart about strategy as we move forward.”
“Some component of that has to be here in northwest Arkansas; it just has to be. This is where the greatest amount of growth is in the state,” Rahn said.
Lance Burchett, UAMS vice chancellor for Institutional Advancement, thanked guests for their support, and asked for their friendship with and advocacy for UAMS.
Other Friends of UAMS chapters are established in Texarkana, Jonesboro, Monticello, Batesville, Pine Bluff, Helena-West Helena, Hot Springs, and Fort Smith.