Regional View: Northwest Arkansas

The healthcare landscape in Northwest Arkansas is evolving at a rapid pace. Population growth and increasing demand for care are creating unique opportunities for expansion and innovation in the health sector. ACHI continues to transform health data into actionable solutions for decision makers, providing insights on this fast-growing region.

Analysis of NWA Naloxone Prescription Fills

In response to the opioid epidemic, utilization of the opioid overdose-reversal drug naloxone in the Northwest Arkansas counties of Benton, Carroll, Madison, and Washington increased from 10 prescription fills in 2017 to 3,722 in fiscal year 2022.

Regional naloxone prescriptions more than tripled from fiscal year 2021 to 2022, due in large part to the implementation of Arkansas Act 651, according to an ACHI analysis. Act 651 went into effect on July 28, 2021, and requires co-prescriptions of naloxone in certain situations, including when a dosage for an opioid prescription is 50 or more morphine milligram equivalents (MME) per day.

As naloxone utilization has increased, opioid prescriptions have fallen. In Northwest Arkansas, 47,081 enrollees had an opioid prescription fill in 2017. By fiscal year 2022, the number of enrollees with an opioid prescription fill had fallen to 30,291. During the same period, enrollees in the region with a high-dose opioid prescription fill of 50 or more MME per day had fallen by more than half, from 15,999 to 7,779 in fiscal year 2022.

For more information and to see how these trends in the Northwest Arkansas region compare to statewide data, see our 2023 data brief, “Naloxone Prescription in Response to the Opioid Epidemic.”

Healthcare Utilization and Payment Spotlight

Of the $1.1 billion spent on Northwest Arkansas Medicare enrollees’ health care in 2019, $240 million was spent on services provided outside the region, an analysis by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement shows.

ACHI analyzed certain aspects of healthcare utilization among Northwest Arkansas residents to gain insight into the needs of the citizens and the demands being placed on the healthcare system of the state’s fastest-growing region. For purposes of the analysis, Northwest Arkansas was defined as Benton, Carroll, Madison and Washington counties. Researchers focused on 2019 to obtain a view of a typical pre-pandemic year.

Heart disease received special focus because it is the leading cause of death among Arkansans and because cardiology is one of the most in-demand types of specialty care.

Total Payments by Location of Service for NWA Medicare Enrollees, 2019

Of the $1.1 billion in total payments for healthcare services or prescriptions for Northwest Arkansas Medicare enrollees in 2019, 22%, or about $240 million, was for services or prescriptions delivered outside the region.

Cardiology Procedures for NWA Medicare Enrollees, 2019

Of the more than 75,000 cardiology procedures performed on Medicare enrollees who lived in Northwest Arkansas in 2019, 11%, or about 9,000, were provided outside the region. The percentages were higher for certain procedures: 14% of coronary artery bypass grafting surgeries and 20% of heart valve replacements were provided outside the region.

Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG) Procedure Utilization & Location for NWA Medicare Enrollees, 2019

This graphic displays coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) procedure utilization and location of service for Northwest Arkansas Medicare enrollees.  

Valve Replacement Procedure Utilization and Location for NWA Medicare Enrollees, 2019

This graphic displays heart valve replacement procedure utilization and location of service for Northwest Arkansas Medicare enrollees.

maternal health

One Northwest Arkansas County Meets Definition of Maternity Care Desert

In Northwest Arkansas, Madison County is the only “maternity care desert” — defined as a county without any hospitals or birth centers that offer obstetric care and without any obstetric providers — according to a report by the March of Dimes analyzing Health Resources and Services Administration data. Nearly half of the counties in Arkansas meet this definition, which we discussed in a blog post.

Maternity Care Deserts in Northwest Arkansas and Statewide

The report notes that the number of counties nationwide meeting the definition of a maternity care desert — 1,119 — represents a 2% increase since the organization released its last report in 2020.

Carroll County, also in Northwest Arkansas, is identified in the analysis as one of four counties in Arkansas that are deemed as having “low access” to maternity care services. Low-access counties are defined as having at most one hospital or birth center providing obstetric care, few obstetric providers, or a high proportion of women 18–64 without health insurance. Carroll County also has the highest uninsured rate among residents aged 18 to 64 of the four counties in the region at 17.6%.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that Arkansas had the highest maternal mortality rate across all states reporting data, with 40.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births between 2018 and 2020. Arkansas also had the third-highest infant mortality rate of all 50 states, with 7.38 infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2020.

Northwest Arkansas-Related Podcast Episodes

You’ll Never Walk Alone: Lt. Tim Shepard

In this episode, we revisit the intersection of mental health and law enforcement, a space in need of innovative solutions and a topic that has been the focus of two previous episodes (here and here). Host Craig Wilson welcomes Fayetteville Police Lt. Tim Shepard for a discussion of his work in Northwest Arkansas as the supervisor of the Crisis Intervention Response Team, a task force that integrates Social Services Advocates into law enforcement response to connect individuals in crisis with the medical treatment they need.

About Us

About ACHI

ACHI is a nonpartisan, independent health policy center that serves as a catalyst for improving the health of all Arkansans through evidence-based research, public issue advocacy, and collaborative program development.

Healthy Choices

Understanding the relationships between lifestyles, decisions, and outcomes is essential for health.

Healthy Systems

Culturally informed solutions and accessible opportunity are essential for health.

Healthy Communities

A balance of quality care, equitable practices, and affordable methods is essential for health.