Emails: Osteopathic Association Opposed Jonesboro Location

Emails: Osteopathic Association Opposed Jonesboro Location
Frazier Edwards (inset) says the AOMA was at the time not able to endorse any collaborative efforts.

The Arkansas Osteopathic Medical Association spent more than a year opposing the establishment of an osteopathic medical school on the campus of Arkansas State University.

But since the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation in Chicago gave initial approval in April to establish the Jonesboro location, AOMA has improved its relationship with the New York Institute of Technology, which will operate the school.

Hundreds of emails released to Arkansas Business under the Freedom of Information Act by the Arkansas State University System reveal the combative relationship between AOMA and ASU officials over the proposed osteopathic school, which is expected to open in the fall of 2016.

“The AOMA is currently in conversations with NYIT on developing a relationship that will yield positive collaborations between our two organizations,” AOMA Executive Director Frazier Edwards said last week in an email response to questions from Arkansas Business.

And Barbara Ross-Lee, NYIT’s vice president for health sciences and medical affairs, also praised AOMA’s effort to collaborate. “I will applaud the association,” she said.

The relationship wasn’t always so cozy.

In 2012, AOMA tried to recruit Lincoln Memorial University-DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, to open a school in Arkansas.

Officials from LMU visited Jonesboro but by September 2012 seemed to favor a site in Fort Smith. That may have been the start of the split between AOMA and ASU.

In November 2012, ASU formed a working group of health care and community leaders to consider establishing an osteopathic medical school on the Jonesboro campus, and a formal announcement was made the following June.

Within days, AOMA endorsed LMU’s interest in establishing a location in Fort Smith, but LMU backed off. ASU’s announcement — according to a letter from James Zini, an AOMA past president, to ASU System President Chuck Welch in July 2013 — “led LMU to put on hold, at this juncture, their support of the development of an Osteopathic medical school in Arkansas.”

(Also see: Supply Lags Demand for Osteopathic Residencies)

Press Release

At the end of August 2013, ASU was ready to announce that it had hired the Tripp Umbach consulting firm to conduct a formal feasibility study. ASU asked about including a paragraph in the news release that said ASU had held meetings with AOMA’s board members.

The answer was an emphatic no.

“We respectfully request that you not mention anything regarding the AOMA, AOMA leadership, nor any AOMA member,” Zini said in an email sent from Edwards’ account. “We are not giving you permission to use our name, likeness, or support.”

A follow-up email said, “That goes for any osteopathic physician as well as our Executive Director.”

Edwards told Arkansas Business last week that AOMA had not then been in a position to have endorsed any collaborative efforts. He said AOMA continued to meet with Arkansas State leaders after that email exchange, though the emails suggest tensions worsened.

Not Talking

When Denise VanderSal of Tripp Umbach began contacting stakeholders for the feasibility study, Edwards was not encouraging.

“His response to me was that AOMA members have been told not to complete an interview with us, that it would be a conflict of interest for the members, and that I am not to contact the individuals separately,” VanderSal wrote in October 2013.

Edwards told Arkansas Business last week that AOMA did not tell members not to cooperate with Tripp Umbach or ASU.

A few months later, in early 2014, the Fort Smith Regional Healthcare Foundation announced its plans to launch the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine — and it received support from AOMA.

James Baker, then AOMA’s president, explained in a letter to Ross-Lee at NYIT why the group favored Fort Smith:

“The AOMA Board of Trustees feel it has the best potential for success, and the trustees are not interested in collaborative efforts to allocate resources in conjunction with Jonesboro community leaders, Arkansas State University …, or the NYIT,” Baker wrote. “The AOMA BOT will continue to solely focus on channeling the needed resources according to the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation towards developing a college of osteopathic medicine campus in Fort Smith, Arkansas.”


AOMA also told the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation of its concerns that ASU might be overstepping its role in connection with the proposed osteopathic school.

“The AOMA questions why ASU as a landlord would host a website for a [college of osteopathic medicine] it can’t have any monetary or administrative influence in,” Baker said in a July 30, 2014, letter to COCA.

ASU and NYIT had the issue with the website corrected.

Jeff Hankins, vice president for strategic communications and economic development for the ASU System, told Arkansas Business last week that everything in connection with the osteopathic school is being handled by NYIT.

NYIT will pay a total of $600,000 annually to lease Wilson Hall on the Jonesboro campus and for utilities and maintenance costs.

Hankins said that the college was “disappointed” that AOMA didn’t early on endorse NYIT’s plan to open a location in Jonesboro.

“But I’m really pleased that they are reaching out to NYIT,” he said. “I think it’s in the best interest of the medical community, specifically the osteopathic medical community.”