Wonks at Work

Wonks at Work aims to demystify, boil down and un-wonk (if you will) complex healthcare topics so that you can understand how the system is working — or not working — for you.

The podcast is hosted by Craig Wilson, self-declared wonk and ACHI’s health policy director.

A special thanks to the Bobby L. Roberts Library of Arkansas History & Art, which is part of the Central Arkansas Library System, for allowing us to use their studio to record our podcast.

We will release new episodes twice a month. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.


Deck the (Capitol) Halls: Michelle Kitchens
A lot happened under the dome of the Arkansas State Capitol this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Michelle Kitchens, ACHI governmental and community affairs director and fellow wonk, gives an overview of this year’s unique legislative session — one conducted in the middle of a public health emergency with a lot of energy devoted to that issue. Kitchens also shares what surprised her this year and what to expect during the upcoming special session, which is expected to begin Dec. 7. December 2, 2021

Doctor My Eyes: Kenley Money
Our guest on this episode, ACHI Director of Information Systems Architecture Kenley Money, discusses the progress of the Arkansas Healthcare Transparency Initiative, which includes the state’s all-payer claims database. She talks about how much data has been collected since the initiative’s inception in 2015; how data from the initiative have been used for research, policy development, and other purposes; and the potential for future data uses to enhance health system transparency. November 11, 2021.

All Together Now: Miranda Morris
Host Craig Wilson delves into a relatively new space in health care ― accountable care organizations, or ACOs. Ushered in under a brief portion of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, ACOs bring together competitors and sometimes adversaries that must trust and rely on one another to achieve effective, sustainable change in healthcare delivery. Miranda Morris, executive director of Aledade ― an ACO operating in Arkansas ― talks about how the organization functions and why the flexibility of this model makes it sustainable for the future of health care. October 28, 2021.

Breathing Underwater: Dr. Jason Holder
Our guest on this episode offers a unique perspective on the COVID-19 pandemic as a doctor on the front lines during the public health emergency. Dr. Jason Holder is a pulmonologist ― a doctor who specializes in the respiratory system ― who treats patients at several facilities including Baptist Health and CHI St. Vincent in Little Rock. He gives us a glimpse into what it’s like for doctors and nurses in the midst of this latest wave spurred by the Delta variant. October 7, 2021.

Taming the Opioid Beast of Burden: Colin Jorgensen
In this episode, host Craig Wilson discusses an issue that some would say the pandemic has overshadowed — the opioid epidemic. Guest Colin Jorgensen, who is the litigation counsel for the Association of Arkansas Counties, provides an update on the progress of lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors. He also discusses the plans for use of settlement proceeds and the potential for future lawsuits against retail pharmacies. September 17, 2021.

Strengthening and Preserving Families: Dana Baker
In this episode, host Craig Wilson talks with Dana Baker about the 100 Families initiative. As the coordinator for 100 Families in White County, Dana discusses how the initiative has seen some early success in reuniting children with parents who have been impacted by incarceration, dependency, or other crises that have resulted in child welfare intervention. She also talks about her own experience as a foster and adoptive parent and offers some pointers to those who may be interested in fostering or adopting. August 23, 2021.

CEO of County Government: Judge Barry Hyde
In this episode, host Craig Wilson talks to Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde about his role as chief executive of the county. Now in his third term, Judge Hyde discusses actions he had to take during the pandemic and shares some insider knowledge about how county government works — including why a county judge is called a judge. July 16, 2021.

A Tale of Two State Medicaid Programs: On the Inside with Suzanne Bierman
On this episode of Wonks at Work, host Craig Wilson talks to fellow healthcare policy wonk and native Arkansan Suzanne Bierman. No stranger to the world of Medicaid policy, Bierman formerly served as assistant director in the Division of Medical Services at the Arkansas Department of Human Services and is now the administrator of the Division of Healthcare Financing and Policy at the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services.

Recently, Nevada became the second state with a “public option” law on the books. Bierman talks about her experience with both the “private option” in Arkansas and the “public option” in Nevada and discusses differences in care delivery approaches between the states’ Medicaid programs. June 30, 2021.

To Every Season: End-of-Life Care Planning with Dr. Masil George
On this episode of Wonks at Work, we look at the options people have to control the care they will receive in the end phase of life. Our guest is Dr. Masil George, a hospice medical director and the director of the geriatric palliative care program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Dr. George talks with host Craig Wilson about how the pandemic has impacted end-of-life decisions and how she engages patients in these important conversations. June 23, 2021.

Pandemic School Daze: PCSSD Superintendent Dr. Charles McNulty
In this episode of Wonks at Work, host Craig Wilson sits down with Pulaski County Special School District Superintendent Dr. Charles McNulty to discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on the district and the resilience and grit demonstrated by teachers and staff while navigating this pandemic. Dr. McNulty shares his thoughts on what lies ahead for schools this fall and why he is optimistic about the future. June 8, 2021.

Health and Lady Justice: Judge Mary McGowan
On this episode of Wonks at Work, we examine the court system and its impact on health and health care. If anyone can provide expert testimony on this topic, it’s our guest, Judge Mary McGowan. Having sat on the bench for 30 years before retiring last year, she’s seen it all. McGowan recalls presiding over the first drug court in Arkansas, gives an account of the most shocking situation she’s ever encountered from a health standpoint, and shares how the court system can do better to address health-related issues. May 14, 2021.

Creating Healthier Cities: Dr. Jenn Conner 
On this episode, we focus on how you can make policy change happen in your town. Our guest this week is Dr. Jenn Conner, who is no stranger to this space. She is an associate professor at the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine based out of Arkansas State University, where she is also the deputy director of the Delta Population Health Institute. A native of Lake Village, Dr. Conner shares her biggest successes and challenges in policymaking and what she sees as “low-hanging fruit” for cities in Arkansas. April 27, 2021.

Arresting the Illness Versus the Person: Dr. Lisa Evans 
On the 11th episode of Wonks at Work, we’re talking about a new safe and secure alternative for those who encounter law enforcement officials during an acute mental crisis. Crisis stabilization units, or CSUs, are short-term, residential medical facilities that provide immediate care for those experiencing mental health crises who might otherwise be jailed or treated at an emergency room. Dr. Lisa Evans, a psychologist and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences/Pulaski County CSU program director, talks to host Craig Wilson about the importance of crisis intervention, the need for more CSUs around the state, and what has surprised her the most about the receptivity of law enforcement, patients and the community to CSUs. April 14, 2021.

Leading a City During a Pandemic: Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. 
On this episode of Wonks at Work, Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. talks about the challenges and successes of leading a city amid a public health crisis. Little Rock was one of the first cities in Arkansas to issue a mandatory mask ordinance, which was recently extended in light of the state lifting its mask mandate. Mayor Scott also discussed the importance of health care to an economy and how health disparities played a major role in policy efforts over the course of the last year.  April 2, 2021.

Bringing Care to Those Who Need it Most: LaShannon Spencer  
Our guest on this episode of Wonks at Work is LaShannon Spencer, the chief executive officer of Community Health Centers of Arkansas. Spencer talks about the importance of empowering and educating our most vulnerable populations to improve health outcomes and the role that federally qualified health centers play in closing the gap on healthcare coverage.  March 23, 2021.

Happenings Under the State Capitol Dome 
In this episode, there is only one wonk in the room. We are smack dab in the middle of our state’s regular legislative session, and host Craig Wilson gives us an overview on the happenings under the Capitol dome. Tune in for an update on bills focused on public heath emergency powers and health professional scope of practice. Wilson also breaks down the ARHOME program, which could replace Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion program that has been in place now for eight years under different names. March 9, 2021.

Juggling Patient Care and Student Education During COVID-19: Dr. Cam Patterson
In this episode, we discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the state’s only academic health center with Dr. Cam Patterson, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He shares examples of how Arkansas has risen to the many challenges during the past year and how UAMS has managed patient care and student education amid the pandemic. Of course, we would be remiss not to talk to Dr. Patterson about the role that music has played in his personal and professional life. February 23, 2021.

A (COVID-19) Shot in the Arm for Arkansans: Heather Mercer
Heather Mercer, executive director of Immunize Arkansas, is someone who has been in the nitty gritty of the state’s vaccination program for COVID-19. In this episode, she talks about Arkansas’ approach to vaccine distribution, supply chain issues and how vaccine hesitancy stemming from misinformation have complicated efforts to get doses in arms. February 9, 2021.

*This podcast was recorded in late January and availability of vaccines at certain sites may have changed since the recording date.

Investing in Employee and Community Health: Dr. Stephanie Gardner
How can a Little Rock anchor institution simultaneously invest in the well-being of its employees while strengthening the health of its surrounding community? In our first episode of 2021, we welcome Dr. Stephanie Gardner, provost and chief academic officer at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. She and host Craig Wilson discuss UAMS’ newly launched home ownership promotion program that includes down payment assistance for eligible employees purchasing a home in designated areas near the state’s only academic medical center. January 26, 2021.

Living at the Intersection of Health and Justice: Tamika Edwards
As special advisor on diversity, equity, inclusion and engagement at Central Arkansas Water, Tamika Edwards’ career revolves around social justice issues. In this episode, Edwards talks about solutions to systemic factors driving health disparities in our state and the effect of one of the most powerful social justice movements in our country’s history. December 8, 2020.

Under Pressure: The Affordable Care Act and a Voting Nation

In this episode, host Craig Wilson spotlights two big recent events – the election of a new president and another Affordable Care Act challenge before the Supreme Court. He predicts three big things that might happen under Joe Biden’s administration in the healthcare space and boils down the two hours of oral arguments before the Supreme Court. November 24, 2020.

The Public Health Powers That Be: Kevin Ryan 

In this episode, we talk about the power of states to respond to public health emergencies. Why does authority over public health lie with states rather than the federal government? What is the status of the lawsuit against the Arkansas governor and secretary of health that challenges the validity of public health directives? Kevin Ryan, fellow attorney and associate professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Public Health, joins host Craig Wilson to help un-wonk and answer these important questions. November 10, 2020.

Getting Back on the Right Track: Dr. Joe Thompson on COVID-19

On this inaugural episode of Wonks at Work, host Craig Wilson sits down with ACHI boss Dr. Joe Thompson to talk about COVID-19’s impact on our state, ACHI’s efforts during a public health emergency, and how he manages to find balance amid the chaos of a pandemic. October 27, 2020.

Introducing the Wonks at Work podcast: Host and self-declared wonk Craig Wilson introduces the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement’s Wonks at Work podcast. This series is dedicated to demystifying health care for decision makers across Arkansas, as well as the average citizen. The first episode debuts Oct. 27. October 8, 2020.