The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is cutting 600 positions as it faces the prospect of cutting $30 million in expenses this fiscal year. Only 258 of the once-budgeted positions were filled. UAMS is the state’s largest public employer with a staff of more than 10,000 and is the only Level One Trauma Center in the state.
In a statement on Monday announcing the layoffs, UAMS notes it is “unlike other state universities” in that it “does not receive the majority of its funding from the state.” Instead, the hospital and its clinics subsidize 77 percent of its medical school’s costs.
State Representative Charlie Collins sits on the Joint Budget Committee. It meets Tuesday to hear Governor Asa Hutchinson’s plans for next month’s fiscal session.
“There’s an opportunity to look at the funding model. If part of it is the state could do more to help, I’d be open to that. But I’d really want to understand why the model calls for doctor tuition, medical degrees to be at one-fourth of the cost whereas for regular degrees we think about half via tuition is the right net-net model,” says Collins.
The Fayetteville Republican has been a primary mover in passing high profile tax cuts in recent years. And tax cuts may be a partial culprit as to why UAMS is in financial straits, according to state Representative Mark McElroy.
“I’ve been on the Budget Committee ever since I first went to Little Rock and I know budgets are tight because we cut a lot of taxes. Well, when you cut your revenues then that tightens everything up. Nobody likes taxes but that’s what you run on,” says McElroy. “Now the budget’s tighter probably than it’s been in several years and you have to prioritize what’s important to you.”
The Democrat from Tillar, in the Delta county of Desha, notes that the Little Rock-based medical school and hospital has clinics throughout the state. He pointed out many people in rural areas rely on advanced services only available in Little Rock.
“The way things go nowadays if we get sick or need medical care we wind up in Little Rock. My wife, I thought was having a stroke and she was paralyzed back last year and we couldn’t figure it out. We wound up in that very hospital and they worked tirelessly trying to figure out. They’re on the cutting edge of it and we’ve got to take care of our own people,” says McElroy, “Of course, I’m in the minority being a Democrat. They call you liberal, but I really think that some things you’ve got to do.”
UAMS has employees working in 73 of the state’s 75 counties. Geographic diversity is something on the top of state Rep. Collins’s mind as well.
“The desire to have more representation in the medical community among certain people or certain areas of the state – the idea is that someone may be a doctor in an isolated rural area - those kinds of ideas have been said as some of the reasons why so much of the medical doctors' education is subsidized by methods other than actual tuition.”
Collins expressed concern over financial awards to top-tier prospective students, “Arkansas and other places are competing so hard to get particular students…we may be in competition to put together a package at great expense. Maybe what we could be looking at is letting him or her get that degree somewhere else and then creating an incentive in terms of getting them here when they’re ready to practice.”
UAMS officials say they’ve “been conducting a comprehensive review of all programs to identify cost savings and make adjustments. “These positions are not being eliminated because of performance issues but simply because we do not have the money to fund everything we have in the past.”