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The Sun-Times - Heber Springs, AR
  • Delta Regional Authority announces award to Arkansas State University for osteopathic medical school economic study  

  • Arkansas State University will receive a $25,000 investment from the Delta Regional Authority to fund an economic study for the development of an osteopathic medical school on campus.
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  • “Efforts to help expand the availability of primary health care throughout the Delta are a top priority of the agency,” said Christopher Masingill, Federal Co-Chairman for the Delta Regional Authority. “Arkansas State’s plans could be transformative to the region in the areas of health care, education, and economic development.” Chancellor Tim Hudson announced June 4 that Arkansas State would explore public-private partnerships to establish an osteopathic medical school. ASU System President Charles Welch authorized Hudson to work with local leaders and representatives of existing osteopathic medical schools on an economic study for the project. “We’re pleased to assist Arkansas State, which has a long history of creating programs that meet state needs, particularly in the Delta,” Masingill said. “The university’s proposal is consistent with our ongoing efforts to develop partnerships between the public and private sectors. The health of individuals and families strengthen the prognosis for greater economic prosperity and growth.” Hudson expressed gratitude to Masingill and the agency for working with A-State to serve the region and address significant needs of its citizens. “This investment will enable us to accelerate plans for the study,” Hudson said. “But more importantly, this commitment from the Delta Regional Authority further validates what we see as a real need for the Delta, and that’s more access to primary health care.” Arkansas State has issued a request for proposals from third parties to conduct the research this fall. Hudson said he expects to compile a report and recommendation for Welch and the ASU Board of Trustees before the end of the year. The Delta Regional Authority is a federal-state partnership whose mission is to help create jobs, build communities, and improve lives in the 252 counties and parishes in the eight states of the Delta region. Arkansas State University is a research institution that serves more than 14,000 students with a mission to educate leaders, enhance intellectual growth, and enrich lives. Background Doctors of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) are fully trained physicians who complete four years of medical school and are licensed by state medical boards to prescribe medication, perform surgery and practice in all recognized medical specialties. Many osteopathic physicians incorporate manipulative treatment, which involves using the hands to diagnose, treat, and prevent illness or injury. D.O.s are one of the fastest growing segments of health care professionals in the United States, according to the American Osteopathic Association (AOA), and the number of active osteopathic physicians is expected to grow from 70,000 this year to more than 100,000 by 2020. According to the State Medical Board, Arkansas has 463 active D.O. license holders, including 275 who currently practice in Arkansas. There are 29 accredited osteopathic medical colleges (COMs) at 37 locations throughout the United States, but the nearest D.O. schools to Jonesboro are nearly 400 miles away in Tulsa, Okla., and Hattiesburg, Miss. The majority of D.O. schools are privately owned, and demand for enrollment is at an all-time high.  ASU’s due diligence process includes considering partnerships with existing private D.O. schools, Hudson said, a model that has proven successful in several states such as Alabama, Arizona, Oregon and South Carolina. ASU officials have already made site visits as part of the preliminary research, he added.  “With this concept, we would not seek state funding,” Hudson said. “The school would generate revenue through tuition, research, and external support.” Arkansas ranks 49th in the country for physicians per capita, and the demand for health care providers continues to grow as the population lives longer. The United States will need almost 52,000 additional primary care physicians by 2025 to meet health care utilization needs resulting from the Affordable Care Act, according to a 2012 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine. About 60 percent of osteopathic physicians practice in primary care fields such as family medicine, general internal medicine and pediatrics, according to the AOA. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has designated several counties in eastern Arkansas as medically underserved areas and populations. “National data indicate that D.O. graduates tend to practice in the region where they are educated,” Hudson said. “This would be welcome news for the Delta — an area in dire need of additional medical professionals.” Opportunities for collaborative research with faculty already at Arkansas State, as well as joint appointments for new medical faculty and some guaranteed places for qualified ASU graduates, could be a possibility depending on what the study indicates, Hudson said. While often located on or near existing university campuses, D.O. schools typically operate from their own specialized facilities, which include lecture halls, labs, libraries and practical training observation and simulation rooms.
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