Arkansas Center for Health Improvement

2018 Dr. Tom Bruce Arkansas Health Impact Award Honorees

Article Date: 11/27/2018

Ben E. Owens Sr. 

Ben E. Owens, Sr. spent more than half a century in the field of healthcare, with 37 of those years at the helm of St. Bernards, the premiere healthcare facility in Northeast Arkansas. That certainly is an unprecedented tenure in healthcare management in this state. Few people have had productive careers that match his – either in length of service or in significant accomplishments that leave lasting impact.

He was a guiding force in developing community healthcare in its truest sense in Jonesboro, but his influence reached far beyond Jonesboro to the state as a whole because of his involvement in numerous healthcare organizations. He has done it all – everything from working on regional and statewide health planning councils to serving as a longtime trustee for Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, from sharing input on advisory bodies for healthcare education programs to serving as a regent for the American College of Healthcare Executives and from serving as president of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Parents’ Club to serving as president of the Arkansas Hospital Association. 

Not only was Owens active and influential in healthcare circles, but also he gave back to the community through chamber, economic development, church and civic efforts. He took leadership roles in the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce, served on committees that successfully promoted a specific use county sales tax, paved the way for annexation of land to Jonesboro and prioritized street improvement needs. He was a member of the Jonesboro Central Planning Commission, the Jonesboro Airport Commission and the Downtown Improvement District and was active in industrial and economic development efforts throughout Northeast Arkansas.

Not surprisingly, he also earned recognition for his service. He holds two honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degrees – one from his alma mater, Lyon College, and one from Arkansas State University.  He was recognized by the City of Jonesboro with a formal Ben Owens Day following the opening of the area’s first Cancer Treatment Center at St. Bernards – one that the Governing Board named in his honor. He also has received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Lyon College, a Regent’s Award from the American College of Healthcare Executives, the A. Allen Weintraub Outstanding Hospital Administrator Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arkansas Hospital Association.

Owens retired as president and chief executive officer of St. Bernards Healthcare in 2010 after leading the growth of what was “just a hospital” with 252 beds to its present status as a 438-bed acute care medical center which serves as the referral center for 23 counties in Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri and is the only Level III Trauma Center in the region. It also has the only Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in the Eastern part of Arkansas.

Even in “retirement” this out-of-the-ordinary Arkansan keeps a busy schedule, serving on the executive committee of the Matthews Medical Mile and supporting a variety of efforts to make Jonesboro a better place to live.

Kent C. Westbrook, MD

Kent Westbrook, M.D. is Distinguished Professor of Surgery in the UAMS College of Medicine and was the founding Director of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center (ACRC), now the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute (WPRCI).  After stepping down as Director in 1998, he served in numerous roles including Interim Chairman of the Department of Surgery in 1999-2002, Interim Vice Chancellor for Development in 2011, and Interim Chairman of the Department of Dermatology in 2014-2015.

Throughout his career, Dr. Westbrook has been committed to the diagnosis and treatment of patients with cancer.  In 1984, Dr. Westbrook and Dr. James Suen established the Cancer Institute.  They raised money, guided construction, recruited faculty, and implemented the multi-disciplinary programs that make up the WPRCI. This includes diagnosis and treatment of head and neck cancer, multiple myeloma, melanoma, breast cancer, and other cancers.  Dr. Westbrook has been at UAMS since 1961 and continues to work in an advisory role in WPRCI and UAMS. The Kent C. Westbrook, M.D. Chair in Surgical Oncology at UAMS was established in 2015.

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