Goals include educating lawmakers, working with clinics to improve clinic flow and helping families avoid emergency room
The Arkansas Chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has about 250 chapter members who work in concert with the 67,000-member national AAP to advocate for the health and well-being of children across the country, as well as for the practice of pediatrics in the country.
"We are structured similarly to other professional organizations in that we have a national office and then each state has a chapter," said Aimee Olinghouse, executive director, Arkansas Chapter, AAP. "So, while we work very closely with the national office, we are our own corporation."
Olinghouse said the Arkansas Chapter considers it vital that children have access to quality care and that the services they receive are covered by insurance or Medicaid.
"Medicaid covers a large number of children in our state," she said. "We work with our members to ensure every child who is eligible for Medicaid and needs services is able to receive those services. We work directly with the Division of Medical Services to make sure that children are enrolled, that they have a provider and the proper services are being reimbursed. We also work directly with the state legislature on various issues, including ensuring that Medicaid is adequately funded. We have a number of our members who have testified in legislative committees on various issues from vaccines to immigration, to access to care and injury prevention."
Other ways they improve the health and well-being of children include working with clinics to include developmental screenings into the clinic flow. And they have worked to help clinics implement asthma action plans to decrease the number of emergency department visits for asthma related issues. Helping clinics improve their efficiency drives down the overall cost of healthcare and increases the quality of care that is delivered.
Another important effort the organization undertakes is to have a presence at the state capitol and work to educate the legislature on policies that affect children. For example, currently Arkansas allows people to receive exemptions for vaccinations for religious and philosophical reasons. The chapter continues to make sure that these exemptions aren't broadened to include other reasons not to vaccinate children because there is no scientific evidence that vaccines are harmful.
"We feel like vaccinations are really important to the health and well-being of kids, and that is true not just of the individual who is vaccinated, but it also helps children who are too young to be vaccinated against certain diseases or who are too medically fragile (like the seniors) to be vaccinated. It helps prevent outbreaks and exposure to those populations. We fight for public awareness that there is no research that vaccinations cause autism."
AAP has also taken a firm stand against separating children from their parents at the Mexican border.
"We feel it is in the best interest of children for families to be united," she said. "Separating children from their families causes both short-term and long-term issues. The president of the national AAP has spent a lot of time at the border looking to reunify families and reinforcing the need for the children to be with their families."
Medicaid provides health insurance for more than 300,000 kids in the state, and not all have equal access to medical care. Olinghouse said that is particularly a problem in rural Arkansas where there are fewer pediatricians per capita than in urban areas of the state.
"Lots of kids in rural areas are seen by family practice physicians because there is not a pediatrician in their community," she said.
The chapter also works with University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) and the Department of Pediatrics to raise interest in pediatrics among medical students and working on retaining pediatric residents in the state after they finish residency.
"We attend a couple of Pediatric Interest Group meetings per year," Olinghouse said. "This is a club that medical students can join. Recently we attended a meeting where we hosted a panel of several pediatricians to talk to the medical students about what it's like to actually practice pediatrics. We also present to the pediatric residents at their noon conference, which is a daily meeting for residents. Annually, we give an overview of what the AAP does and how we advocate for our members and all children. We also send a welcome letter at the beginning of every academic year that introduces ourselves and reminding residents that they are members of the state chapter at no cost to them."
Some of the other programs the chapter has spearheaded are projects to help pediatricians improve care for ADHD patients, teaching clinics to implement the latest guidelines from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute/National Asthma Education and Prevention Program and involvement with Reach Out And Read Arkansas, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing awareness of the importance of early literacy intervention and the critical role it plays in a child's development. The organization also works to promote the Patient Centered Medical Home concept as an important mechanism for uniting the many segments of a child's care, including behavioral and oral health, to accomplish these goals.
Once a month the academy hosts a webinar where there is discussion about topics that are relevant to pediatric practices at that moment.
Olinghouse, who has been executive director of the Arkansas Chapter AAP for 13 years, grew up in San Antonio, Texas. She graduated from the University of Texas in Austin. Prior to her present job, she worked in government relations at Arkansas Children's Hospital, in institutional advancement at UAMS and as a fundraiser at Camp Aldersgate.
She's married to Tate, and together they have three children: Lauren, 17, a freshman at Hendrix College; Mitchell, 14, a freshman at Catholic High School in Little Rock; and Beck, 10, who is in the 4th grade at Prince of Peace School in Plano, Texas.
In her free time, Olinghouse teaches indoor cycling classes at the Little Rock Racquet Club. She is an avid tennis playing and recently started playing golf. She will be mentoring a girl at Henderson Middle School this year through the Lessons for Life Ministry. The family attends the Greater Little Rock campus of New Life Church.
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