Health care is critical to the Arkansas economy. This entire issue of Arkansas Business is dedicated to it. Not only is it a major driver of high paying jobs, but access to health care is a significant quality of life factor impacting the retention and attraction of high wage jobs in other industries.
There are significant health disparities within the state’s vastly rural geography. And the challenge will only grow. According to a study based on the 2016 census from the UA Little Rock data center, housed at the university’s Arkansas Economic Development Institute (AEDI), 65% of Arkansas’ 75 counties experienced an increase in median age over the last year. In 2016, three counties had populations that were mostly baby boomers over the age of 50.
Our population is evolving, and our health care delivery system must evolve with it. The Arkansas Health Care Association (AHCA) has been on the forefront of this effort, working in collaboration with other health care leaders and community stakeholders to ensure we can provide the right care, in the right place at the right time to Arkansans – especially those most geographically isolated and vulnerable.
There are 231 long-term rehab and nursing home facilities in 74 out of 75 counties in Arkansas, giving our sick and elderly the ability to stay close to friends, family and the communities many of them have called home their whole lives. In several cases, these facilities are the sole health care access point in a given county, employing the only registered nurses and physicians in large areas of the state.
More than 36,500 Arkansans are directly employed in the care of residents in Arkansas nursing homes and rehab facilities, including dieticians, certified nurse aides and more than 1,000 Registered Nurses. An additional 11,400 of our state's citizens are employed in jobs that result from the care these facilities provide.
All told, long-term care facilities in Arkansas add an estimated $3.92 billion to the state's economic activity every year, including contributing $441 million in local, state and federal tax revenue. Our largest investment is in our people, with $650,000,000 in annual payroll exclusive of benefits earned by our caring professionals and staff.
All that is secondary, of course, to the compassionate care these facilities provide to almost 40,000 patients, including elderly Arkansans who are no longer self-sufficient and those – as young as the qualifying age of 67 – who have suffered a significant health event such as a stroke or injury that requires in-patient rehabilitation care to help them get back to work, their homes and the things they enjoy. Independent studies show the care patients receive in these facilities is excellent.
The American Health Care Association found that each resident of an Arkansas nursing facility receives 4.48 hours of direct, individual care every day – more than a half-hour more than the national average. More than 46% of patients are eventually able to return to more independent lives – and, if the need arises for additional care, the local facility is accessible, knowledgeable and able to provide high-quality continuity of care.
Quality care for the fragile lives entrusted to us is the number one objective of every facility and caregiver. AHCA and its membership have been – and will continue to be – actively engaged in leading the collaborative effort to find solutions. Ensuring the right care, at the right place, at the right time. And, as I’m sure many of my fellow Arkansans would agree, knowing you can count on access to high-quality care close to whatever part of Arkansas you call home for yourself or a loved one means peace of mind.
Rachel Bunch is the exectuive director for the Arkansas Health Care Association. For more information about AHCA or to learn more about long-term care providers, please visit arhealthcare.com.