LITTLE ROCK — An osteopathic school at Arkansas State University would help meet the demand for primary care physicians in the Delta and have an initial economic impact of about $70 million in the northeastern part of the state, according to a study released by ASU Tuesday.
The feasibility study was conducted by by Tripp Umbach, a nationally recognized health care and economic development consulting firm based in Pittsburgh.
“Our research shows that because of its mission, history, location and existing academic programs, Arkansas State is well-positioned to collaborate with health care partners across the state to help fulfill these needs,” said Paul Umbach, founder and president of the consulting firm. “These efforts would make a significant social and economic impact in Arkansas and the Delta.”
The study found that the current shortage of physicians in northeastern Arkansas and the Delta will get worse as the state’s overall population ages and more than a quarter of the state’s physicians retire within the next five years.
Additional physicians also will be needed, the report said, as more people have access to health care under the Affordable Carew Act and seek preventative care.
The study estimated the direct and indirect impact during the two-year startup period of a new osteopathic medicine school at $69.9 million, provide 317 jobs and add $2.1 million in taxes to local communities. The report also estimated economic impact to the region at $88 million annually.
“Our analysis of hospitals and clinics in the Jonesboro area indicates that a significant amount of clinical activity is present to support the education of up to 120 medical students per class,” Umbach said. “About 76 percent of the residency positions are housed in Little Rock with only 24 percent of the state’s total population. The residency position distribution is skewed.”
The feasibility study said ASU’s goal should be to keep 60 percent of all D.O. graduates in the northeastern Arkansas region, Umbach said. If there were 100 medical school students in each class, the D.O. school would anticipate 60 new physicians in the region annually, beginning eight years after it opens. The majority would be primary care physicians.
Chris Masingill, federal co-chairman of the Delta Regional Authority, said in in a statement released by ASU that a new medical school “would be a much-needed investment into the health, welfare and economy of northeast Arkansas and the greater Delta region.”
The DRA gave ASU $25,000 to help cover about half of the nearly $50,000 cost of the study.
ASU Chancellor Tim Hudson said the study shows that a medical school would benefit the university, as well as the region and state.
“While the main benefit is to educate much-needed primary care physicians and improve the health and well-being of Arkansans, the D.O. school would also strengthen Jonesboro and our neighboring communities economically and accelerate expansion of an innovation economy,” Hudson said.
The study’s recommendations and how to implement them will be discussed with ASU System President Chuck Welch, and a proposal is expected to be presented to the ASU Board of Trustees during a meeting on Feb. 28, Hudson said.
ASU Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Jason Penry said the university would continue to discuss the possibility of a new medical school and share the study with health care, education and government leaders in the state. Negotiations are also underway with the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine under a non-binding memorandum of understanding for the development of a branch school on the Jonesboro campus.
There are 30*** osteopathic medical schools in the United States, with the nearest being the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Services in Tulsa; William Carey University College of Osteopathic Medicine in Hattiesburg, Miss.; Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, Mo.; and University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth. About 70,000 doctors of osteopathy practice nationwide.
In Arkansas, there are about 460 active DO license holders, of which 275 are practicing in the state, according to the state Medical Board.
Dan Rahn, chancellor of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, said last year that sudies have shown that UAMS produces an adequate number of medical students — each class starts with 174 students — but he said Arkansas has a “maldistribution problem” because too many go to work in the larger cities while few set up practice in rural areas of the state.
According to the American Osteopathic Association, DOs are fully trained physicians licensed by state medical boards to prescribe medication, perform surgery and practice in all recognized medical specialties. Osteopathic training includes an emphasis on “the body as an integrated whole” and the connectedness of the muscular, skeletal and nervous systems, the AOA states on its website.
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***This article has been corrected from its orginal version. Click here for the correction notice.