In­ter­views over, Bob­bitt to pick UAMS leader

Both can­di­dates have state roots

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - BRAN­DON MUL­DER

The sec­ond of two fi­nal­ists for the chan­cel­lor po­si­tion at UAMS wrapped up his in­ter­view in­tro­duc­tions in Arkansas this week, set­ting the stage for the se­lec­tion of who will be the next leader of the state’s aca­demic med­i­cal sys­tem.

Dr. Wes­ley Burks was the sec­ond can­di­date in as many weeks to hand­shake his way from Lit­tle Rock to Fayet­teville, af­ter Dr. Danny O. Ja­cobs made the same rounds last week as the two vie to lead the Univer­sity of Arkansas for Med­i­cal Sciences, Lit­tle Rock. Don­ald Bob­bitt, the

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Univer­sity of Arkansas Sys­tem pres­i­dent, will se­lect the next UAMS chan­cel­lor. The Univer­sity of Arkansas board of trustees may vote on the se­lec­tion next month. The trustees plan to meet on Sept. 7 and Sept. 8 for a reg­u­larly sched­uled meet­ing at the Univer­sity of Arkansas, Fayet­teville.

Burks, 63, has been ex­ec­u­tive dean for the Univer­sity of North Carolina School of Medicine since 2015. He be­came a fi­nal­ist for the UAMS job af­ter a search com­mit­tee win­nowed a list of 25 ap­pli­cants to two last month.

Ja­cobs, 62, is the ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, provost and dean of the School of Medicine at the Univer­sity of Texas Med­i­cal Branch in Galve­ston.

Both can­di­dates were at­tracted to the idea of re­plac­ing re­tir­ing Chan­cel­lor Dr. Dan Rahn in part be­cause Arkansas is their home state. While Ja­cobs was leav­ing his home­town of Cam­den at age 13 to at­tend school in Ver­mont, Burks was grow­ing up in Con­way. Burks at­tended Con­way High School and earned his med­i­cal de­gree at UAMS.

“It’s a re­ally good place with a lot of good peo­ple,” Burks said of the UAMS com­mu­nity. “And it has the ad­di­tional qual­ity of be­ing home — we have kids here, par­ents here.”

Burks’ son, Chris, is a fam­ily at­tor­ney in Lit­tle Rock. His daugh­ter, Sarah, serves as Gov. Asa Hutchin­son’s ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy ad­viser. His par­ents live in Con­way.

But beyond the al­lure of re­turn­ing to their roots, both are in­ter­ested in up­root­ing from their cur­rent schools for an­other rea­son: im­pact. UAMS has a foot­print in nearly ev­ery Arkansas county and serves as the state’s pri­mary med­i­cal re­search and ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem.

In North Carolina, UNC com­petes with three other aca­demic med­i­cal sys­tems, Burks said.

In Texas, there are six. Burks stressed that, de­spite the un­cer­tainty of any health care leg­is­la­tion emerg­ing from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., UAMS needs to re­tain its dom­i­nance as the state’s pre­vail­ing med­i­cal re­search and ed­u­ca­tion in­sti­tu­tion, and as a pri­mary care­giver for Arkansans.

“In North Carolina, we did ter­tiary and qua­ter­nary care well. That got us by,” Burks said, re­fer­ring to the ad­vanced and spe­cial­ized medicine prac­ticed as op­posed to pri­mary and sec­ondary care medicine. “But I don’t think that will be the case in the fu­ture be­cause that doesn’t take care of the pop­u­la­tion.”

Over­all, Burks per­ceives health care as in a tight grip of in­ex­orable change that will con­tinue “no mat­ter what kind of pur­ple plan comes out of Wash­ing­ton.” In his eyes, the health care land­scape will con­sist of fewer and larger providers, as he has wit­nessed in health care mar­kets across the coun­try.

The Barnes-Jewish Health­care Sys­tem based in St. Louis is an ex­am­ple. It reaches all of Mis­souri and into Illi­nois, pro­vid­ing ter­tiary and qua­ter­nary care in St. Louis, and pri­mary and sec­ondary care at lo­cal hos­pi­tals from Spring­field, Mo., to Spring­field, Ill.

The Univer­sity of Michi­gan Health Sys­tem has ab­sorbed other en­ti­ties in the state via part­ner­ships that sup­port lo­cal en­ti­ties in ad­min­is­ter­ing pri­mary care, Burks said.

He said UAMS must fol­low a sim­i­lar track by ex­pand­ing into the state’s pri­mary and sec­ondary care mar­kets at the lo­cal level via strate­gic part­ner­ships with lo­cal hos­pi­tals that can help “take care of the right pa­tients at the right place at the right time.”

“You hope to pro­vide pri­mary care to peo­ple where they live, to the ex­tent that re­ally high-qual­ity care can be pro­vided,” he said. “Then pro­vide the ter­tiary, qua­ter­nary care — the re­ally high­end qual­ity care — to be done at the hubs of the UAMS Sys­tem. … And that’s how you put a sys­tem to­gether.”

On Thurs­day af­ter­noon, Burks took a quick flight to UAMS’ Northwest Arkansas cam­pus.

And like Ja­cobs, Burks had en­coun­ters with old friends and peers dur­ing his Arkansas visit.

On Wed­nes­day, for­mer Univer­sity of Cen­tral Arkansas Pres­i­dent Tom Court­way told the Demo­crat-Gazette about his mem­o­ries of Burks at Con­way High School. Sep­a­rated in age by a year, Burks had suc­ceeded Court­way as the high school’s start­ing quar­ter­back. “Af­ter I grad­u­ated, he did a whole lot bet­ter job than me,” Court­way said.

Burks bash­fully said Court­way’s mem­ory was re­vi­sion­is­tic.

But Court­way’s com­pli­ments con­tin­ued. “He’s a born leader. He’s the one that al­ways had a level and a cool head on him, and some­one that every­body looked up to and ad­mired,” Court­way said. “Couldn’t be prouder of my friend.”

On Thurs­day, UA trus­tee chair­man Ben Hyne­man and board mem­ber Mark Waldrip said they had no im­me­di­ate lean­ings be­tween Burks and Ja­cobs.

“I view it as a no-lose sit­u­a­tion,” Waldrip said. “I think we’ve got two ex­tremely strong can­di­dates, and I don’t think there’s a wrong an­swer.”

“I just think they ex­hib­ited a real good un­der­stand­ing of the fu­ture of health care, what’s go­ing to be im­por­tant in the changes com­ing down the road — and not far down the road,” Hyne­man said. “The in­sti­tu­tions that are go­ing to be able to thrive and pros­per are the ones that can see the clear path and take it.”

“I feel con­fi­dent that ei­ther of those can­di­dates will be a great leader of the cam­pus.”

The chan­cel­lor’s salary is a max­i­mum of $375,000 for the fis­cal year that ends June 30, 2018, ac­cord­ing to Act 512 of 2017. But Arkansas Code An­no­tated 6-63-309 states that any ex­cep­tion­ally qual­i­fied in­di­vid­ual can earn up to 25 per­cent more than the lineitem ap­pro­pri­ated amount. Other money can come from pri­vate funds.

Rahn earned $630,000 an­nu­ally, plus a $13,000 stipend for hous­ing and a car.

Both can­di­dates were at­tracted to the idea of re­plac­ing re­tir­ing Chan­cel­lor Dr. Dan Rahn in part be­cause Arkansas is their home state

Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette/STA­TON BREIDENTHAL

Dr. Wes­ley Burks an­swers ques­tions from Univer­sity of Arkansas for Med­i­cal Sciences staff and fac­ulty mem­bers Wed­nes­day as he vis­its the cam­pus in Lit­tle Rock. Burks is one of two can­di­dates for UAMS chan­cel­lor. He con­cluded a two-day visit to Arkansas on Thurs­day.

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