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Published in CenterView on May 29, 2012

Vice Chancellor’s View: The Way We Are

A little over a week ago Sunday, there was a riot at a federal prison near Natchez.  Four hundred inmates took control of a section of the prison and held guards hostage for several hours in a tense standoff with authorities. 

Keeton ArticleYou might not think such goings on would involve our Medical Center, but this one did.  One guard was killed and several others injured.  There was a fire. With the prospect of mass casualties, UMMC, working with the state health department, deployed two helicopters, a medical advance team and a field hospital.  

The standoff ended without further incident, and these resources were not needed after all, thank goodness.  But our emergency medical capability, and all the training and expense that go into it, was primed for action.

This is just one example of how UMMC helps our state in ways that don’t necessarily show up in a budget sheet, an appropriation or, in this case, even a newspaper headline. We might not get credit for it. We might not get paid for it. But we do it all the same.

The truth is, UMMC doesn’t have to be a Level 1 trauma center, with all the responsibilities that entails.  No one requires us to partner with public schools in the hope of awakening a love of science in a young person who’s had zero advantages in life.  No government official has decreed that we must increase our medical school class size to graduate more physicians. 

Our accreditation standards do not require us to do any of these things in order to keep our education programs in good standing.  And on balance, such activities cost far more than they bring in.

Still, we do these things.  We do them because they’re good for Mississippi.  We do them even though they’re difficult.  

And, at some basic level, we do them because that’s who we are.  That’s the way we’re built.We’re leaders.

We have some critical challenges ahead of us.  Soon – this Friday – we will undertake the largest systems implementation in our history, a single electronic health record that will be the equivalent of going from a horse-drawn carriage to an automobile.  (I promise you, it will be a much better ride, but it will be bumpy at first.)

We’re gearing up to merge the faculty practice plan back into UMMC.  This is no small undertaking, but it will position us to conduct business in a reformed national health-care system.

And despite some belt-tightening that has touched everybody in the organization, we’re still not where we need to be in terms of our financial security.   Like everybody in health care and higher education, we’ve got to become more efficient AND more effective.

None of this will be easy.  But then again, none of us went into health care, or came to work at an academic medical center, because we thought it would be easy. 

We chose it.  Or maybe it chose us.  Because that’s the way we’re built.

So when the next hurricane or tornado hits, we’ll be among the first on the scene.  When the subject turns to increasing minority presence in the health professions, we want to lead the conversation.  And when Friday morning arrives and our Epic era begins, we will answer the bell. 

We wouldn’t have it any other way.