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We are experiencing a societal event that is having unprecedented effects on our nation's health-care system. The covid-19 pandemic has had a particularly significant impact on our safety-net hospitals and their programs upon which our entire population depends.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) is one of those safety-net hospitals. In fact, it is the only one in Arkansas. Like so many others around the country, staggering budgetary issues due to the effects of the coronavirus have hit us hard as well.

UAMS has strong relationships with community hospitals and clinics around the state. We know firsthand their importance, especially in rural areas. That's why we supported payments from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help prop up rural hospital finances.

As Arkansas' only health sciences center, UAMS has an estimated annual economic impact of nearly $3 billion on our state. UAMS employees work in almost every Arkansas county and, through in-person visits and digital health, our programs touch every corner of our state every single day.

As a medical university, UAMS trains more than 60 percent of the physicians practicing in Arkansas and the majority of pharmacists, nurses and other health-care professionals. UAMS and its regional programs across the state support more than 20,000 jobs. An economic impact study by TEConomy Partners showed that for every dollar of taxpayer money UAMS receives, it generates $25 of economic activity across the state.

Teaching hospitals like UAMS are major referral centers because of the health-care expertise of our medical experts, cutting-edge research, and technology that allows UAMS to treat the most complex cases while maintaining a heightened level of preparedness so we can respond rapidly to any health-care crisis. A great example has been our quick response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Within hours after the state declared an emergency, our teams set up an emergency operations center and began construction on the state's first drive-through coronavirus screening and testing center. In only days, scientists in our laboratories created a new way to process tests so we could aid the state in getting results faster despite a national shortage of medical testing reagents.

In times when there is no pandemic, UAMS is always ready, hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. UAMS' health system is home to unique centers including the state's only adult Level One Trauma Center, the only comprehensive stroke center, the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute, which attracts patients from 50 countries, and a high-risk pregnancy program with survival rates greater than the national average.

Over the last four months, it's concerning to see academic medical centers in other states cutting programs because of the huge amounts of money they have spent on covid-19. We watch as these storied institutions, many much larger than ours, make massive cuts to programs and announce triple- and quadruple-digit employee layoffs. We are doing everything in our power to avoid similar cuts, despite our own losses, which have hit as much as $35 million a month as we saw surgeries decline by 60 percent and clinic visits by more than 50 percent.

These unsustainable losses are important to all Arkansans no matter where they live. UAMS' health system is the major financial engine that funds our teaching mission. That loss in revenue will affect our ability to educate enough doctors and other health-care professionals, and that touches the future of all communities.

The CARES Act is designed to ensure that none of Arkansas' 3 million residents has to go without health-care access. We are grateful for the $15.9 million in federal funding our hospital received from the CARES Act Provider Relief Fund in April to help cover some of our initial equipment and supply costs from the pandemic.

However, covid-19 isn't a short-term problem that's going away soon. Costs continue to mount. We need more funding to allow UAMS to fulfill our mission. Further support will also allow us, once this pandemic ends, to reassess our programs and work with state partners to make meaningful change so we are even better prepared to address similar disasters in the future.

Think how different things can be if we use this national crisis as a pivot point to have cheaper, more efficient and effective health-care for everyone. We must work to refresh health care across Arkansas and the country. We must work to rebuild programs paused or shut down after falling victim to the coronavirus. We must take demonstrative action, and we must do it now, before it is too late.

We cannot afford to do nothing and let our hospitals and health-care systems continue to suffer under perpetual distress caused by covid-19.


Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, is chancellor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

OPINION: Guest writer

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