Michelle Rupp: Roby Brock of Talk Business and Politics joins us now. We’ve added you into the mix here to continue our conversation.

Roby Brock: I am  happy to be added into anything, so thank you. 

MR: Yes, yes, we will add a dash of your health industry knowledge into this mix. Ray and I were talking earlier just about the health care landscape and how it’s changed over the years and the health care industry really is one of the top industries now. Maybe it’s always been one of the top industries, but I feel like it’s even more so now.

RB: I think it’s more important now to community survival. I think it’s always been a very important cog in the economic wheel of most communities. But if you go to any county in the state of Arkansas, any major city, you’re going to find one of the top three employers in that city or that county is going to be a hospital …

Ray Hanley: Or nursing home …

RB: Yeah, the counties that don’t have hospitals, something in the health care sector is going to be driving the economy and that region. And so, statistically when you look at it, there’s … depending on how you slice and dice your categories, you can have anywhere from about 130,000 to 200,000 Arkansans employed in the health care industry. That’s a huge number of people. That’s almost 11% of the workforce, maybe even a little bit higher than that.

MR: Well, the overall impact that health care has had in recent years, I almost feel like kind of taking an elevated look at it. Of course, with the pandemic, things were accelerated, but I feel like there’s been an acceleration of health care, what it brings to the table, the embracing of new technologies, that we’re seeing things that even our parents can’t imagine that they are seeing in their lifetime. Some days you might wonder, I can’t believe we’re seeing this in my lifetime.

RB: I talked to a psychiatrist just about two weeks ago who is going to be leaving his full-time job as an in person psychiatrist to just do telemedicine full time and he will make the same amount of money basically working from his house at a computer with a t shirt and shorts on. I mean, you get into the different lifestyles that people want to have in the way that they work and you’re going to see a lot more diversity I think, in in health care and it’s not going to replace in person visits, but it is going to be another dimension.

RH: You know, people like him in psychiatry and mental health, when South Arkansas pretty much has no psychiatrist and a real shortage of mental health providers in rural Arkansas. If we can build up broadband, which again wraps into business and health care, you have a chance to deliver some of these services to rural Arkansas, which is exciting and probably the only way some people are going to be able to access.

RB:  I’d say this to cap it off here as much as we’ve watched over the last three decades from my perspective in health care and business and politics, in that intertwining that we’re talking about, it’s not going away in the next 30 years. I mean, it will be front and center, it will be a major economic engine. It will be a major political driver of conversation.

MR: And there’s a little bit of excitement to see where it goes from here. You know? I mean, honestly, who would have thought that like your psychiatrist friend, he would be seeing patients from the comfort of his own home? Who would have thought during this pandemic, we’d be working from the comforts of our own home where you only need to be professional from the waist up because that’s all anyone sees? I mean, everything has changed so dramatically, and at such a rapid pace, that we probably can’t even fathom the changes that are on the horizon.

RH: AFMC has had as many as 700 employees this past year working remotely. Our call center, all our covid workers, contact tracing and everything. And you know, it all worked because of really good technology.

MR: Well, it’s a conversation we will continue to have no doubt about it.