Mellie Bridewell is tackling the state’s rural health care shortage head-on. In 2007, Bridewell pulled five hospitals in southeast Arkansas together to form the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, a network designed to find ways to support health education initiatives, increase access to care in the region, improve the quality of health care through education and training and work with hospital members as a region instead of individually.
“Arkansas Rural Health Partnership has shown nationally that regional hospital networks can be a way to save our rural hospitals and clinics and build quality care in rural areas,” Bridewell said. “The Arkansas Rural Health Partnership membership includes not only our 14 hospital members but 108 hospital owned and affiliated clinics.”
Bridewell is the CEO of the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, the largest independently owned hospital network in the South. The partnership is equally owned by all hospital members and maintains a board of directors comprised of 14 hospital administrators that meet each month. As the CEO, Bridewell continues to look for ways to bring much-needed resources to the region.
During her time with the Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, Bridewell has helped obtain more than $14 million in grant funding. The organization has been recognized nationally for its innovative projects and partnerships in rural health initiatives including the Health Resources and Service Administration’s Rural Health Champion for Creative Partnerships and the National Cooperative of Health Network’s Outstanding Network of the Year.
In the most recent annual report, Bridewell and the organization have mapped out the target areas they’re looking to focus on to improve care in their service area. Arkansas Rural Health Partnerships aim to build a pipeline of health care workers, maintain that workforce and confront mental health and the substance use crisis in rural Arkansas.
Funding for the organization comes from grants and a few critical partnerships, including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine.
“One of the greatest challenges has been to get our state partners to recognize that the needs of our rural hospitals can be very simple and that if we all work together we can achieve great things,” Bridewell said.