In 2021, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Stephen Simpson won a grant from the University of Southern California’s Center for Health Journalism to work on a series about health disparities in the Arkansas Delta.
For years, statistics have shown that a person born in the Delta of Arkansas has a lower life expectancy than someone born in the urban areas of Central and Northwest Arkansas.
To put the Delta on the same playing field as other parts of the state for business growth, there needs to be a large-scale investment in infrastructure, health care, school systems and more, medical experts said.
Before Ben Gilmore was a senator, he lived in the Delta in southeast Arkansas and witnessed firsthand the region's struggles with health care, infrastructure, education and more.
"There used to be a time when license plates had numbers on it for each county based on population and Pulaski County was one and Jefferson County and Mississippi County were two and three."
Dr. Valencia Andrew-Pirtle began working in Blytheville more than 20 years ago as a family medicine specialist and, over time, she has learned the most dangerous disease Mississippi County faces is one she wouldn't have thought about decades ago.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic pain and heart issues now plague David Chenault and he is required to see a list of specialists, but none of them are in that part of the Delta.
The Central and Northwest metropolitan areas of Arkansas have grown in population over the past decade, but towns in the Delta — with the exception of Jonesboro — lost people in large numbers.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Arkansas has shed light on the health disparities in the Delta areas, where once-thriving cities have become zones in need of assistance.