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Remembering the Past to Expand the Future

So much has changed in health care over the last two years, but one thing has remained constant: AFMC has been out in the field doing whatever we can to help improve the health care system in Arkansas and other states throughout the nation. Our success is, in large part, due to the leadership of our former CEO, Mr. Ray Hanley. Through his leadership over the past 13 years, AFMC has tripled in size and has expanded its impact on health care.

Mr. Hanley is set to retire by the end of August, and Mr. John Selig will be taking over to further increase that impact that Mr. Hanley left at AFMC. Today, we are talking with Mr. Ray Hanley and Mr. John Selig to discuss the current status of health care and the medical profession, long-term impacts of the pandemic, favorite memories at AFMC, and hopes and dreams for the future.

Now that we are moving forward and making strides coming out of the pandemic, the status of health care is at a much different place than it was two years ago. One thing that has certainly changed is a deeper appreciation for public health and the role that partners like AFMC play. “We were out there every day vaccinating and testing folks,” Mr. Hanley says. “We learned a lot about the good that vaccines do and how to be better prepared for the next pandemic.”

Another change that has come from the pandemic is the impact of telemedicine. “That is probably the most lasting thing that has come out of this, particularly in a rural state like Arkansas, where telemedicine can really make a difference,” Mr. Hanley says. “The use of [telemedicine] really jumped up. The providers and patients learned a lot about it, how it works, and how to use it. That’s certainly the most lasting thing going forward.”

Mr. Selig certainly agrees with Ray: “I think a lot of people, if they knew what public health was, probably thought it was clean air, clean water, come and get your vaccinations. Now, they realize it’s much more. Telehealth has changed the way we do medicine, particularly in rural areas. I think people have much better access to care than they did before the pandemic.”

Two other things that Mr. Selig mentioned have changed in health care are recent focus on mental health issues and a renewed appreciation for the critical work that health care workers do on a daily basis. “Because of the stress of with the pandemic, but also, in particular, with children and school-aged kids,” Mr. Selig adds, “There has been a much more heightened awareness of mental health issues throughout our state.” On top of the health care workers’ new focus on mental health issues, the health care field, in general, is seeing a huge uptick in the amount of respect and support they are receiving from the community. “People value what health care workers have done and how hard they have worked,” Mr. Selig mentions, “but the pandemic has also created burnout. The system is now trying to recover. I am on the board at a local hospital and just trying to find the staff is a challenge. Once a nurse decides to move on and do something else, you can’t just go get another nurse. Nursing schools and medical schools only have a certain capacity.” It will certainly take time to rebuild the workforce, but Mr. Selig remains hopeful that we will rebuild the workforce, given how much people are learning the importance of health care.

While there is a renewed respect for health care workers since the pandemic started, many health care workers, including nurses, are retiring or leaving, which affects recruitment for the future. However, Mr. Hanley and Mr. Selig still believe young people are interested in the health care industry.

According to Mr. Selig, “a lot of young people saw what occurred during the pandemic and saw what a critical role nurses and doctors played and said ‘I want to get into that field.’” Mr. Hanley adds, “The salaries were bit up quite a bit during COVID. Form an income standpoint a health care career is more attractive than it was two years ago.” While it will take some time to restore the health care workforce to what it was before the pandemic, both men are confident that there is not a lack of demand for a slot in nursing school or medical school in Arkansas.

Even though we have a much better understanding of the pandemic than we did two years ago, there are still some surprises that await us done the road. While there is no way to know the impact that the pandemic has had on other factors outside of health care, Mr. Hanley and Mr. Selig do have a few ideas for what surprises may lay in store for us.

“If you look at how test scores are lagging in the state and how poorly Arkansas students compare to other states and much of the world,” Mr. Hanley says, “I think a lot of that has to do with the drag over the last two years: a lot of time missed in the classroom, homeschooling that worked for some and didn’t work for others, and loss of social activities and time with peers. We won’t know for a while, but I think that certainly has some ramifications.”

Mr. Selig adds, “All the studies show that the pandemic was particularly difficult for low-income families, families where, if mom or dad couldn’t stay home to help with homeschooling, and the kids were on their own, it was much more difficult. If you don’t have access to the Internet, or if you don’t have good Internet connection, that divide grew even more. That’s why you saw such a push for broadband across the state. It’s hard to see down the road whether that impact will last or whether these kids will catch back up, but I certainly hope they do.”

As do all of us, I’m sure.

As his time here at AFMC comes to a close, Mr. Hanley has shared some of his favorite memories at AFMC. While he cannot not pick just one memory, he does think about meetings he’s had with the team. “I think about all the meetings around the table with the super smart, talented, committed staff, the leaders we have built, and all their ideas and hard work. I think about how we’ve tripled the size of this company. It’s not about the revenue or the number of staff, but it’s about what the efforts of this team did to improve health care.” Some of the efforts he mentions are the team helping to run health clinics and work the phones for thousands of people that need health care assistance. “We are even out there now setting up health clinics in historical black colleges throughout the state,” he adds. “There have been so many opportunities that the team has had to make a difference and carry out the mission of improving health care. I am so proud of what we have collectively done.”

Though Mr. Hanley’s time as CEO is coming to an end, Mr. Selig is ready to expand upon the legacy that Mr. Hanley left. “AFMC has had such an impact on the health system, particularly in a critical time of need,” Mr. Selig says. “There are so many opportunities out there, and you have to go after them. Ray and the team have done that. I feel so fortunate to come in with such a strong team. I am happy to be here, and I am so proud of the work that Ray has done. It certainly isn’t a situation where there’s nowhere to go but up. We’re already up.” The focus, Mr. Selig explains, is to expand on what has already been built by Mr. Hanley here at AFMC. “I really look forward to saying, given all the strengths we have and the growth we’ve had in the last few years, what can we do to have an even bigger impact, particularly in Arkansas?” AFMC has done health care work outside of Arkansas, which is great for our organization, but Mr. Selig believes the focus is still on improving the health care system in Arkansas.

Mr. Hanley believes the best advice for Mr. Selig, as new CEO, is to listen to the team. “Learn from them while you’re leading them,” Mr. Hanley explains. “That’s been my mantra. I’ve led them, but I’ve learned a great deal just by listening to the team around the table.”

Mr. Hanley is pleased to pass the baton to Mr. Selig. “We have been friends since college for the better part of 30 years. WE have worked since 2013 to pass Medicaid expansion, John on the DHS side, and I on the private side, leading a coalition of 35 groups that lobbied day in and day out at the capitol. I am looking forward to John’s leadership and staying in touch with folks, and I expect that good things are going to happen in the future for AFMC.”

Mr. Hanley has certainly done a great job of both listening and leading and steering this ship through a pandemic. These have not been the easiest two years in any of our lives. I know I speak for all of us when I say that it has been an honor to work with him.

Mr. Selig has already done a tremendous job of understanding the culture and legacy that AFMC has built. I know we are all excited to see what the future holds, and we can all rest assured that Mr. Selig will expand upon the legacy that Mr. Hanley established before him.

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Eldrina Easterly

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Chris Hughes

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