February 26, 2016

Surgeon General Addresses MHA Group; New MHA Scholarship Announced

Arkansas Surgeon General Gregory Bledsoe, M D, M P H speaking at annual luncheon

Arkansas Surgeon General Gregory Bledsoe, M.D., MPH

The UAMS Master of Health Administration (MHA) program hosted its annual luncheon Feb. 26, featuring the presentation “Health Reform in Arkansas” by Arkansas Surgeon General Gregory H. Bledsoe, M.D., MPH.

Also at the event, Jyric Sims, MHSA, class of 2007, was honored as the 2016 Outstanding Alumnus. Mr. Sims serves as the Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Tulane Health System. In addition, a new student scholarship in honor of John Baker, Ph.D., MBA, longtime professor and founder of the Master of Health Services (MSHA) program, was announced.

Richard Ault, Director of the MHA program, said that Dr. Baker, who was unable to attend the luncheon, was “gratified and very appreciative of the honor.”

Mr. Ault noted that Dr. Baker along with retired colleagues Andreas Muller, Ph.D., and John Wayne, Ph.D., composed a well-qualified triumvirate that taught all MHSA and MHA students from 1988 to 2013. All three are now retired from the program, which has a high graduate job placement rate and is the only such program of its kind in the state with national accreditation.

“That continuity in the program is what made it very strong through the years,” said Mr. Ault.

The MHSA program was started at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 1981. It transitioned to UAMS in 2005 and was later renamed the Master of Health Administration program. It has more than 400 graduates.

Surgeon General Bledsoe provided not only insights into the evolution of health care reform in Arkansas but also a window into who he is and the experience and expertise he brings to the job of state Surgeon General.

A native Arkansans, son of a surgeon and state legislator, and UAMS-trained physician in Emergency Medicine, Dr. Bledsoe is a former Johns Hopkins International Emergency Medicine Fellow and Emergency Medicine faculty member. While at Johns Hopkins, he earned a master’s in public health and the “Teacher of the Year” award from the Department of Emergency Medicine.

Dr. Bledsoe has extensive international medical experience, as a medical officer, field physician and teacher, which has taken him to Central America, Africa, Asia, the North Pole and Antarctica. As an instructor for the US Secret Service, he was the personal physician to former President Bill Clinton during a 2002 Africa tour and accompanied President George W. Bush on a 2003 trip to Africa.

Incoming Governor Asa Hutchinson in 2014 tapped Dr. Bledsoe for his new role. Within days of the Governor’s inauguration in January 2015, they met with US Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell to talk about health reform.

“Those discussions are ongoing, but are not just about Arkansas’ Medicaid expansion, but is a look at all reform for Medicaid in Arkansas” and how to make the system more efficient and sustainable, Surgeon General Bledsoe said.

Reform efforts have led to the proposed Arkansas Works program that will be voted on by legislators in a special session in April. Goals of that reform are for more people on employer-based insurance “rather that government rolls,” incentives to find work or job training for those who can work, and “better program integrity” for benefits verification and communications.

“We want to make the program more efficient so that people get the care they need, and people are not stuck on call center lines,” Dr. Bledsoe said.

Surgeon General Bledsoe does not anticipate health care reform and debate to go away as a policy priority anytime soon. The sheer complexity of the Affordable Care Act means “it will be years before” its impacts are fully understood, he said.

“We have to respond to it, and carve out the best position for Arkansas, in the circumstances we are now in.”

Part of his job is helping the various health policy stakeholders understand one another.

“I see myself as a translator – of the governor’s vision of health care to citizens and legislators and the communicator of people’s and health care providers’ needs back to policymakers,” Dr. Bledsoe said.

Yet, as a physician and public health policy leader, he said he does look forward to a broader perspective on health sometime in the future.

“I look forward to a shift in attention from care for chronic disease to preventive medicine and tackling the root causes of disease,” Surgeon General Bledsoe said.

Dr. Bledsoe is an Associate Professor in the UAMS College of Medicine and has a secondary appointment in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the UAMS College of Public Health. He is a board-certified Emergency Medicine physician and a graduate of both the College of Medicine and the Emergency Medicine residency program at UAMS.