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Governor Beebe's weekly column and radio address: 100 Years of the Arkansas Department of Health

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This year marks the 100th anniversary of the Arkansas Department of Health. A century ago, awareness of disease control was reaching a new apex, both nationally and locally. With scientific advancements providing new information about diseases, our new department and others across the country began working to control sources of disease transmission. Those efforts - along with advances in immunizations, sanitation and safer food and drinking water - have been credited with adding 25 years to our life expectancy.

In recent years, Arkansas has taken our own steps toward further improving public health. The biggest of these was the creation of a statewide trauma system. Before this system was established in 2009, Arkansas was the only state in the nation without a designated trauma center. Now there are more than 65 trauma centers across our State. The system has dramatically reduced the response time for a patient who has suffered a traumatic injury. The wait that used to be several hours has fallen dramatically to less than 7½ minutes. Patients can be more confidently routed to hospitals that have the right doctors on duty to care for their specific injury. The Department of Health estimates that the Trauma System will save 168 lives a year.

Since 2009, the State has also significantly increased the number of flu vaccinations available. We now provide hundreds of thousands of doses to students in every corner of the state. The flu season currently winding down was a particularly rough one across America. Our Department of Health provided 240,000 flu vaccines to help protect our children against this year’s virus strain.

Despite our advances, Arkansans still face many health challenges. Many of our problems surround how our people eat, or often, don’t eat. While we have made progress in our fight against hunger, more than a quarter of Arkansas children live with uncertainty about where their next meal will come from. Children who experience repeated episodes of hunger are more likely to have lasting health effects throughout their lives.

The lack of proper nutrition, whether eating too much or eating the wrong foods, has led to record numbers of diabetes cases. Nearly a quarter of a million Arkansas adults and children have this debilitating disease. Diabetes complications can include kidney damage, heart disease, the need for lower-limb amputations and even death. Hundreds of thousands more Arkansans are at risk to develop diabetes, a problem that we must address for the health of our people and our economy.

Arkansas has come a long way since 1913, but the quest to improve public health never ends. Our work continues today to provide better health care to our people, and to develop more responsible habits among those people to care for themselves. We have decades of dedicated health professionals at the Arkansas Department of Health and other public-health agencies to thank for our progress. Together, we will continue that progress throughout a second century of statewide care.