UMMC partners with local health-care institutions on Habitat project
By Gary Pettus
Michelle Owens’ new home in Jackson is loaded with the standard features of a typical Habitat house – one of at least 556 built since the founding of Habitat for Humanity/Metro Jackson in 1986.
But beyond the sparkling kitchen, neat bedrooms and freshly-painted porch, the house at 233 Englewood Street has room for this: teamwork among four major health-care rivals, including the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
During a Healthcare Build 2013 press conference at the construction site March 28, Owens spoke about this spirit of institutional cooperation that empowered her American dream.
“The partnership with Habitat has been a true blessing,” she said.
The partners with UMMC are Baptist Health Systems, St. Dominic Health Services and the five area hospitals of Health Management Associates (HMA).
Acknowledging the sometimes adversarial tone that marks the relationships among those institutions’ leaders, Duane O’Neill, president and CEO of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, joked, “They compete in business, but they are collaborating on this. I’m interested in seeing what they do with the hammers.”
Actually, the hospitals’ employees and UMMC students had been wielding the hammers, peaceably, during an intermittent eight-day building process on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays that began in March.
“It’s amazing and heart-warming to be able to help someone else,” said Sandra Mattix of Byram, a Division of Physical Facilities employee and the volunteer coordinator for Owens’ house.
“I would rather see people live in a home than in an apartment. I wish her well in it.”
Owens, second from left, thanks leaders of the Healthcare Build 2013, from left, Duane O’Neill of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, Claude W. Harbarger of St. Dominic Health Services, Dr. James Keeton, Todd Lupton of Health Management Associates, and Mark Slyter of Baptist Health Systems.
The institutions offered an equal number of workers for each shift, a collaborative effort that could spark cooperation in other areas, their leaders said.
Noting that UMMC employees and students have worked on Habitat houses for years, Dr. James Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs, brushed aside talk of competition with his counterparts – Mark Slyter, president and CEO of Baptist, Claude W. Harbarger, president of St. Dominic, and Todd Lupton, Jackson market CEO with HMA, which embraces River Oaks Hospital, Madison River Oaks, Crossgates River Oaks, Central Mississippi Medical Center and Woman’s Hospital.
“The opportunity to work side-by-side to help our fellow man is pretty special,” Keeton said. “The state has more problems than worrying about competing. Here’s a problem we can all work on together.”
Michelle Owens, left, Habitat homeowner, and Alyson Maxie of Jackson-Hinds CHC.
The problem for Owens, a single mother, was finding the means to buy a house for her and her two young children, Carmen, 5, and Janelle, who will soon turn 1.
Through a friend, Owens heard about Habitat, which builds $60,000-$70,000 homes for families living in substandard housing who can meet a monthly, zero-interest mortgage payment and a down payment of at least $500.
The potential homeowner must have good references and a steady job. Owens is a licensed practical nurse at Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center and hopes to enter Hinds Community College in the fall to earn her registered-nurse degree.
And he or she must really want this.
“My mom and stepdad still live in the same house I grew up in,” said Owens, a Jackson native who attended Murrah High School. “They provided me a home when I was growing up. It means peace of mind and security. I want to be able to give that to my children.
“When I’m in my home, I’ll be able to fence in the yard so my children will have a safe area to run around and play in.”
Her new house means freedom.
Samantha Mulligan, administrative assistant in radiation oncology, and David McAlpine of St. Dominic
“I can pick out the perfect furniture,” Owens said. “I can paint the walls any colors I want.”
She can make one her favorite dishes, tetrazzini, on a stove and in an oven that don’t belong to someone else. Right now, she cooks for her children in a two-bedroom rental with plumbing that backs up regularly in the bathroom, a back door that won’t shut tight and a hole in the wall that exposes the bathroom to the great outdoors.
Her new, 1,196-square-foot house is a 10-minute drive away, but worlds apart. It lies in Englewood Gardens, a Habitat-rehabilitated neighborhood of nearly 30 single-family homes.
“Fourteen months ago, there was nothing here,” said Merrill McKewen, resource and development director for Habitat/Metro Jackson.
Now, it’s further embellished with Owens’ bungalow-style dwelling, painted in summerset peach with acorn trim and a front door of old gold – colors of her own choosing.
“The homes always look even prettier and in better shape the day the homeowner comes to shred the mortgage,” McKewen said.
This one has three bedrooms, two baths and energy-efficient appliances donated by Whirlpool, and landscaping work donated by Comcast.
Owens has worked for this, logging 250 hours of community service and construction on her home.
“It’s great to be able to put my hands in it; it’s a good feeling,” she said.
Employees from rival hospitals work together during Healthcare Build 2013
This provision for homeowner’s “sweat equity” is common to every Habitat home. But this was the first time Jackson-area health care institutions worked together to build one.
“We hope this is the beginning and not the only,” McKewen said. “This is in addition to what the hospitals have already been doing for Habitat. It’s true generosity.”
That generosity will put Owens in a house that is scheduled for a formal dedication at 10 a.m. May 6. Asked what her first act will be as a first-time homeowner once she moves in, Owens said, “I’m already doing it: I’m thanking God for this opportunity.”