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.
One Horse Town: Randy Barymon
Arkansas hospitals continue to face financial challenges coming out of the pandemic as inflation outpaces revenue. Earlier this year, the state established a new designation, the rural emergency hospital, following a move by Congress in late 2020. The new designation could make financial sense for some hospitals with lower inpatient volume, but there are tradeoffs. At least one Arkansas hospital has already taken up the option — St. Bernards Five Rivers Medical Center in Pocahontas. In this episode, host Craig Wilson speaks with the hospital’s administrator, Randy Barymon, about right-sizing the hospital for the community. September 26, 2023.
Not Afraid: Chris Thompson
New digital technologies can boost our individual health and well-being and make the healthcare system more accessible, personalized, efficient, and cost-effective. This has created fertile ground for health technology startups exploring innovative ways to address patient and consumer needs. Recently, we’ve seen a flurry of startup activity in the mental health and substance use treatment and recovery space. In this episode, host Craig Wilson speaks with Chris Thompson who founded the app Sober Sidekick in Northwest Arkansas to help people in substance use recovery build community, track their journey, and find support. September 14, 2023.
Learning To Fly: Robin Howell
Cultivating interest in healthcare careers among students earlier in the educational process is key to ensuring a sufficient workforce pipeline to respond to the needs of Arkansans. That has been the focus of Robin Howell, senior program manager for regional campuses at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, for more than 35 years. In this episode, host Craig Wilson talks with Howell about the Medical Applications of Science for Health (MASH) program, a summer enrichment camp that allows high school students to learn about health career opportunities, and other efforts to develop a strong physician workforce pipeline in Arkansas. August 10, 2023.
The Long and Winding Road: Dr. Joe Thompson
Findings from research on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on minority communities have largely been uniform in showing overwhelmingly disparate health outcomes. In this episode of Wonks at Work, host Craig Wilson discusses findings from ACHI’s analysis of Arkansas-specific data on COVID-19 health disparities with ACHI president and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson. They also discuss ACHI’s findings on the early impact of long COVID on Arkansans and the need to continue to examine long COVID’s effects on individual health and disability. July 31, 2023.
The Heart of the Matter: Dr. Anthony Fletcher
The COVID-19 public health emergency may have ended, but some Arkansans who were infected are still experiencing health impacts. In this episode, host Craig Wilson welcomes CHI St. Vincent cardiologist Dr. Anthony Fletcher, who discusses findings from ACHI’s analysis of COVID-19 disparities and long COVID in Arkansas. Dr. Fletcher also gives a firsthand account of COVID-19’s impact on patients with cardiac conditions. July 18, 2023.
Living with the Law: Michelle Kitchens
Several new laws passed by the Arkansas General Assembly during its most recent session have already taken effect or will go into effect at the end of this month. In this episode of the podcast, we revisit the session through a healthcare lens for a review of what has already changed, what will soon become the law of the land, and what it all means for individuals and communities. Host Craig Wilson welcomes Arkansas Center for Health Improvement Director of Governmental Affairs and Community Outreach Michelle Kitchens to the podcast to unravel it all. July 11, 2023.
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. June 13, 2023.
Even Flow: Anne Santifer
In this episode, we explore how electronic health records — digital collections of patients’ medical histories (lab results, medications, ER visits, etc.) — can be used to improve the care we receive. Host Craig Wilson is joined by Anne Santifer, executive director of the Office of Health Information Technology at the Arkansas Department of Health, which houses the State Health Alliance for Records Exchange, or SHARE. Santifer talks about how information is securely gathered to give doctors a more complete picture of their patients’ health, where gaps and limitations currently exist, and how those gaps might be addressed. June 1, 2023.
Make That Connection: Dr. Mike Wilson
Harm reduction is a key part of how we address the opioid epidemic. Making the overdose-reversal drug naloxone more widely available is a mainstay of harm reduction and the chief objective of ACHI’s NaloxHome program. It is also critical to connect people with substance use disorder to treatment options and not miss opportunities for intervention. That’s where Dr. Mike Wilson, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, does his work. He joins host Craig Wilson (no relation) in this episode to discuss the opioid epidemic and his work on a program to help patients with opioid use disorder. May 17, 2023.
Grow as We Go: Ryan Cork
Our guest for this episode, Ryan Cork, is leading business-sector efforts in Northwest Arkansas to respond to a rapidly changing healthcare environment in the midst of population growth. Cork has extensive experience in healthcare administration, having worked in multiple roles for the Cleveland Clinic, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, and The James Cancer Hospital. Currently serving as Northwest Arkansas Council’s Healthcare Transformation Division executive director, Cork shares how the council is responding to increased demand for healthcare services in the region and how businesses may have to adapt to the surging costs of employer-based health insurance. March 13, 2023.
Farther We Go: Derek Lewis II
One of the ways that we measure whether we are moving toward health equity is by measuring health disparities, i.e., the size of the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. In this episode, host Craig Wilson talks with Derek Lewis II, president of the Derek Lewis Foundation — founded by his father, Dr. Derek Lewis — about health disparities in Arkansas and the work that the foundation and the National Medical Association are doing to advance health equity. Lewis also offers a history lesson on how the Arkansas Medical, Dental and Pharmaceutical Association was formed 130 years ago. February 28, 2023.
Stand by Me: Lester Cupp
While the COVID-19 pandemic has dominated the public health landscape the past few years, a more silent killer has increasingly claimed American lives: opioids. Although policies regarding prevention, treatment, and recovery have improved, policymakers have been unable to keep pace with this rapidly evolving epidemic. In this episode, ACHI Peer Support Coordinator Lester Cupp joins host Craig Wilson to discuss challenges presented by the opioid epidemic in Arkansas and how peer recovery specialists can successfully support those in recovery through lived experience, mutual empowerment, and shared understanding and respect. February 2, 2023.
One Call Away: Marian Green
Brick-and-mortar crisis stabilization units, which have been launched in four areas of Arkansas, serve a critical role in law enforcement response to those in mental health crisis, but they comprise only one component of the response spectrum and are not available in some rural areas of the state. Put simply, law enforcement officers need additional options. In this episode, host Craig Wilson talks with Marian Green, a licensed counselor and founder and executive director of Aspiring for Community Transformations, a nonprofit working to deploy mental health resources to rural parts of Arkansas with a focus on the intersection of mental health and law enforcement. January 18, 2023.
Everybody Hurts: Dr. Mark Jansen
The United States is still a long way from eliminating the stigma associated with seeking care for mental health needs, but the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that more of us struggle with mental illness than society previously acknowledged. In this episode, host Craig Wilson talks with Dr. Mark Jansen, vice president and chief medical officer for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, about how the mental health landscape has evolved, how the pandemic has changed the demand for mental health services, and the pressures health insurers face as they try to respond to that demand. December 28, 2022.
The Gift: Mark Tudor
More than 100,000 Americans need a life-saving organ transplant, but many will die waiting to be matched with a suitable donor. And the waiting list is ever growing — every 16 minutes a new patient is added. In this episode, we welcome Mark Tudor, president and CEO of ARORA, the largest organ and tissue recovery agency in Arkansas. Mark talks to us about how to register as an organ donor, clears up a few of the myths and misunderstandings about organ donation, and gives his advice to those who are on the fence about becoming a donor. December 14, 2022.
Together We Are: Josh Hall
Unmet social needs — such as food, housing, transportation, and child care — can have detrimental impacts on people’s physical and mental well-being, but most healthcare providers have been ill-equipped to address these needs. In this episode, host Craig Wilson talks with Hark Executive Director Josh Hall about the increasing need to integrate social care with health care, what solutions have emerged in this growing market, and how Hark connects people to community-based services in Northwest Arkansas. November 30, 2022.
This Side of the Law: Nick Zaller
In this episode, we zero in on the intersection of health and criminal justice with Dr. Nick Zaller, a professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences College of Public Health and founder and director of the Southern Public Health and Criminal Justice Research Center. Dr. Zaller talks about his study of crisis stabilization units (CSUs) in Arkansas and what can be done to improve access to CSUs for people experiencing mental health crises. He also discusses key interventions to address the spread of infectious diseases among people who inject drugs, and the need to provide treatment for those who are incarcerated and actively using or undergoing treatment for opioid use. September 26, 2022.
Rock Steady: Troy Wells
Hospitals in Arkansas are experiencing increasing budgetary challenges. Medicaid expansion spared Arkansas from the rash of hospital closures that has plagued other states, but it doesn’t mean our hospitals are not at risk. In this episode, Baptist Health President and CEO Troy Wells delves into the reasons why hospitals across the state are struggling, what he has learned about himself as a leader during the pandemic, and what his organization is doing to solidify the healthcare workforce pipeline. September 14, 2022.
Applause: Satia Spencer
In this episode, host Craig Wilson interviews his “Memphis the Musical” co-star and cancer survivor Satia Spencer. The pair discuss her survivor story, the new clinical recommendations for screening, and her advice for people hesitant to get screened. Spencer served as a Marine and is a music educator for the Little Rock School District. Shameless promotional plug: “Memphis the Musical” runs through the end of this week and tickets are available here. July 25, 2022.
Tied Together with a Smile: Kristin Merlo
Oral health is a key indicator of our overall health, yet it’s often overlooked as an essential part of staying healthy. In this episode, host Craig Wilson talks to Delta Dental of Arkansas CEO Kristin Merlo about oral health access issues in Arkansas, bridging the medical-dental divide, and the promise of the recently announced plans for a dental school in Arkansas. June 30, 2022.
Race Against Time: Greg Thompson
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic more than two years ago, hospital capacity has been a major focus of attention — but we often forget about the capacity needed to get people to the hospital. For over 30 years, Greg Thompson has worked with the largest ambulance service in Arkansas, MEMS, which stands for Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services. Now at the service’s helm as executive director, Thompson discusses the impact of COVID-19 on emergency medical services, how ambulance services are governed, and how the industry is addressing workforce challenges. June 14, 2022.
Where You Lead: Dr. Creshelle Nash and Dr. Neel Shah
Wonks at Work goes national. In this episode, host Craig Wilson talks to national and state leaders about how we can better equip those who want to start families to have better outcomes. Our guests are Dr. Neel Shah, a national leader in maternal health and chief medical officer for Maven, a virtual clinic for women’s and family health; and Dr. Creshelle Nash, medical director for health equity and public programs at Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The conversation touches on policy levers that could improve maternal and infant health outcomes, the need to integrate telehealth into the ways we currently provide services, and how we can restore trust in science and public health. June 2, 2022.
And the Healing Has Begun: Rev. Jay Clark
We all want to move on from the pandemic, but in our haste we may have robbed ourselves of the time to process the trauma and grief we’ve experienced in the last two years. This is one of the reasons the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement called on faith and community leaders to consider having a day of reflection and healing to acknowledge the immense impact of COVID-19 on our lives. In this episode, we talk to the Rev. Jay Clark, executive pastor at Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church in Little Rock, who discusses his experience as a faith leader during the pandemic and offers his perspective on what we need to stop and reflect on as we heal from this collective trauma. April 22, 2022.
Unwell: Dr. Sacha McBain
The pandemic has caused suffering, loss, and mental distress for many of us. Mental health challenges particularly affected parents and their children who experienced disruptions with school transitions and child care, communities of color that already faced barriers to accessing mental health care, and essential workers who were much more likely to report suicidal thoughts during the pandemic. In this episode, we’re talking to clinical psychologist Dr. Sacha McBain of UAMS about these challenges, what can be done to enhance access to mental health services, and the potential for mental health services to be fully integrated into primary care. April 11, 2022.
One Day at a Time: Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane
We’re back! The omicron wave extended our holiday break longer than we had planned, but our host and top wonk Craig Wilson is behind the mic again. In this episode, we discuss how disruption and isolation created by the pandemic have impacted people struggling with addiction. In 2020, there were almost 92,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S., 21,000 more than in any previous year. Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane talks about factors that contributed to this increase and highlights some policies and programs aimed at prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. March 29, 2022.
Come Together: Dr. Len Nichols
At one time on a path to becoming a preacher, Dr. Len Nichols took a detour and instead became a renowned health economist who is now spreading the gospel of investing in the healthcare system to address unmet social needs. A former professor of health policy at George Mason University and current non-resident fellow of the Health Policy Center of the Urban Institute, Dr. Nichols is the primary investigator for the Collaborative Approach to Public Good Investments. Host Craig Wilson talks to Dr. Nichols about his vast experience in health policy and his current work in developing and implementing innovative funding approaches to tackle social risks that impact health outcomes. December 16, 2021.
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 in 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 in 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
In 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
In 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
In 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
In 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
In our 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.
In 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 in 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.