Favorite

Health history 

On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the state Health Department comes Dr. Sam Taggart's book, "The Public's Health: A Narrative History of Health and Disease in Arkansas," published by the Arkansas Times. Taggart will sign books at 3 p.m. Jan. 25 at WordsWorth and from 5 p.m.-6:30 p.m. at Dizzy's.

The book brings to light not just the battle against disease in Arkansas, but battles between monied interests and the common good when it came to health, a parallel in part to today's situation.

In 1879, the Arkansas Medical Society tried to get the legislature to create a State Board of Health, but was unsuccessful. The governor, who declined to recognize an unofficial board created by the medical society, changed his mind after an outbreak of yellow fever in Memphis. Still, he made no dollars available. One of the reasons the legislature and the governor resisted the idea of a board of health was suspicion of "university-trained doctors," Taggart writes. It was not until 1881 that the legislature saw the wisdom of creating a state board to monitor disease, sanitary conditions and gather vital statistics.

There's nothing so persuasive as actual experience. Sen. Kie Oldham of Pulaski County, who was suffering from tuberculosis, was the father of the Arkansas Tuberculosis Sanatorium, which opened in Booneville in 1910 and operated for 62 years. In the first 40 years of operation, there was always a waiting list. Oldham died of TB in 1911. Arkansas's black population had no sanatorium until 1931; it was Dr. George Ish, the prominent Little Rock black physician, who "almost singlehandedly lobbied" to get the state to create the McRae TB Sanatorium in Alexander.

In the early years of the 20th century, one in five people in Arkansas suffered from hookworm, thanks to going barefoot and the lack of outhouses to contain waste. The John D. Rockefeller Foundation had money to give to eradicate hookworm, but didn't want to dole it out to a state board that was unfunded. Oddly, it was doctors who fought efforts to fund the state board because, as Taggart writes, "A common refrain on the part of the medical community was that the prevention of disease reduced the patient load of the physician."

The book details Arkansas's struggles with smallpox and diphtheria, citing the work of Ruby Odenbaugh Kinard, who traveled by buggy and horseback through Stone County to spread the word that folks should get immunized to smallpox and typhus. "She decided early on the only liquid she could drink in the homes was coffee because it was boiled and did not provide a typhoid risk." Dr. J.T. Herron, doing induction physicals in Helena at the beginning of World War II, discovered syphilis in 52 percent of the men who wanted to be soldiers. Herron went on to administer the federally-funded Emergency Maternal and Infant Care program in Little Rock. Again, there were Arkansas doctors more concerned with money than patients: Taggart writes, "The notes of the Board of Health meetings and the various reports of the more conservative members of the Arkansas Medical Society indicate that the doctors had concerns that this attempt to provide services for the poor [pregnant women] would broaden and interfere with their practice of medicine — taking away potentially paying patients. Infant mortality in Arkansas was high, especially among black babies — which was one reason the medical society ignored the problem, Taggart reports. In the late 1930s, state board pediatrician Dr. Francis Rothert named a black Tuskegee-trained nurse, Mamie Hale, to work with black midwives on sterile methods (Rothert said that one country doctor told her that he always washed his hands after delivery). Mortality was reduced, but by 1954, black mothers and children were still three times more likely than whites to have complications.

Taggart's 21st century reflections address the continuing struggles of the Arkansas Health Department to provide health care to rural areas. He believes the department will, with its upgraded trauma system, community health centers, telemedicine and the like, improve health in areas with scant access to medical care. "It is also highly probable," he writes, "before they have time to congratulate themselves another equally dreadful and dramatic problem will present itself."

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Readers also liked…

  • The Inquizator: Brad Cushman

    Brad Cushman has been gallery director and curator at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock since 2000. He is also a studio artist and a previous Grand Award winner in the Arkansas Arts Center's "Delta Exhibition."
    • Jan 8, 2015
  • Arkansas fiction: the survey

    We asked local literary figures for Arkansas novels they wish were better known. Here are a few of the results.
    • Dec 11, 2014
  • The Little Rock Top 10

    Here are the Little Rock albums we listened to more than any others this year, the ones that meant the most to us and that we'd push on any out-of-towners who asked what was new in the Little Rock music scene.
    • Dec 18, 2014

Most Shared

  • Tackling autism, child by child

    An Arkansas Children's Hospital doctor is testing a new drug that targets one of a host of ailments the highly individual disorder can cause.
  • 1957 all over again

    Last week, the State Board of Education voted to ignore federal courts and allow school district transfers that will encourage segregation.
  • Death penalty lives

    Barely clinging to its flagging life, the death penalty got a merciful reprieve last month from the unlikeliest quarter, the Arkansas Supreme Court.
  • Drinking culture

    Here we go again. At the rate these campus sexual abuse sagas are making news, it's reasonable to ask what college administrators can possibly be thinking about.

Latest in The Big Picture

Event Calendar

« »

July

S M T W T F S
  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
31  

Most Viewed

  • Tackling autism, child by child

    An Arkansas Children's Hospital doctor is testing a new drug that targets one of a host of ailments the highly individual disorder can cause.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: A limit on elders' rights

    • If you accidentally signed this, please feel free to email me at diamondstatepaperco@gmail.com. I'm not…

    • on July 24, 2016
  • Re: Mosaic Church celebrates its 15th anniversary

    • It was my privilege to get to know some of these when I tried to…

    • on July 23, 2016
  • Re: Make America great

    • Mr. Stedman, The obvious answer to begin making America great again is to realize that…

    • on July 21, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation