The Mississippi Healthy Linkages Project is a collaborative effort between the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), the Mississippi Primary Health Care Association (21 federally qualified health centers), and the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH). Healthy Linkages is designed to address the causes of health care problems experienced by some of Mississippi's most vulnerable citizens during times of disasters (man-made or natural) and during normal times.
The ultimate goal of Healthy Linkages is to develop and implement a formal patient referral process between UMMC, Mississippi's 21 federally qualified health centers and MSDH county clinics. The Healthy Linkages program is committed to ensuring that patients receiving primary care from the federally qualified health centers and the MSDH clinics have "seamless" access to consultants at UMMC. The leadership of the three entities have committed to working together to ensure that our most vulnerable patients have a medical home and access to specialty services.
Prior to Hurricane Katrina, there was no formal communication between UMMC, the 21 FQHCs and the MSDH county clinics as it relates to patient referrals. The devastation of Hurricane Katrina revealed the need for a formal referral process and improved communication between the three. Grant monies were secured by UMMC to pull the three entities together to find a solution to the many deficiencies in communication. The Healthy Linkages committee, comprised of individuals from the three entities, was formed. The Bard Group of Boston, Mass., was hired as a consultant to assist the committee in developing a formal patient referral process. A subcommittee, the Solutions Design Team, comprised of clinicians and information systems staff from the three entities, was formed to develop recommendations to the Healthy Linkages committee of how the referral process should look. This team came together to create a uniform referral form that is customizable to meet specific needs and to decide which departments within UMMC would be the most feasible for a pilot study. The Healthy Linkages committee approved the recommendations of the Solution Design Team and decided to pilot a referral process in the Cardiovascular and Ob/Gyn departments at UMMC, two FQHC site and one county MSDH site.
For many years, UMMC's hospital operated several community-based clinics, which were also used as resident (continuity) clinics. Over the years, the medical center began to lose millions of dollars each year operating these clinics. This was due to an increased number of uninsured individuals as well as general inefficiencies in operating these clinics. Because of the relationships established through Healthy Linkages, leadership of UMMC decided to partner with the largest FQHC in the state (Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Center) to operate these clinics. Jackson-Hinds now operates the clinics, while UMMC maintains control of the residency program.
The three missions of UMMC include education, health care and research. The Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs recently added the reduction of health disparities as a fourth mission. Healthy Linkages is certainly a major component of this added mission. We also feel that the FQHCs as well as MSDH are crucial to addressing this issue. UMMC is committed to further strengthening its relationship with these and other entities to ensure every citizen of Mississippi has access to specialty care and a medical home.
The ultimate goal of Healthy Linkages is to increase/improve communication between various stakeholders in Mississippi to improve access to health care. The following activities are also in progress.