Jean White of El Dorado was excited when she read about the South Arkansas Center on Aging three years ago. Now 70, she was looking for a place to exercise that catered to someone her age, and she’s been a regular there ever since. “When I found out about it and visited the center, I knew it would be a good fit for me,” said White, who stays healthy with regular use of the center’s walking track and tai chi classes. “And I tell all my friends about it.”
The Center on Aging at El Dorado, staffed by geriatric specialists, is one of eight such centers in Arkansas established by the UAMS Arkansas Aging Initiative and supported by money from a multi-state legal settlement with the tobacco industry.
Arkansas’ portion of the settlement totals about $50 million a year. The money has been devoted entirely to improving the health of Arkansans since November 2000, when voters overwhelmingly agreed to the plan drawn up by state leaders.
UAMS has four programs that are supported by the tobacco settlement: the Arkansas Aging Initiative, a program of the UAMS Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging and community partners; the Arkansas Biosciences Institute; the Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health; and the Delta Area Health Education Center (AHEC).
“By successfully leveraging these tobacco dollars, we have greatly expanded our biosciences research, our health outreach services, and we’re at the forefront in developing strategies for improving public health,” Wilson said.
While UAMS leads the state in biosciences research, it also collaborates with its Arkansas Biosciences Institute partners: the University of Arkansas (UA), Fayetteville; Arkansas State University; Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute; and the UA Division of Agriculture.
Tacking Preventable Diseases
Today’s major sources of chronic disease often result from preventable lifestyle issues, such as tobacco use, obesity and lack of exercise. In fact, these lifestyle issues are the major factors in the three leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer and stroke.
The college has moved quickly to tackle these issues, with researchers leveraging almost $44 million from outside sources. The college was fully accredited in less than three years, the fastest accreditation for any college of public health in the country.
Into the Delta
The AHEC, one of eight UAMS AHECs in Arkansas, has four clinical rooms, a fully equipped gym and three classrooms to deliver a variety of public health topics.
Reaching the Elderly
At each site, an interdisciplinary geriatric health care team includes a specially trained geriatric social worker, a geriatric nurse practitioner and a geriatrician. Arkansas is the only state to offer such an extensive health care network for older adults.
The tobacco settlement has provided between $1.5 million and $2 million a year, but to fully support its Centers on Aging, the Arkansas Aging Initiative has worked to secure more than $6 million in gifts, grants, contracts, and donated time and space.