Published on Thursday, August 31, 2017
Media Contact: Ruth Cummins
When Humphreys County Memorial Hospital in tiny Belzoni folded in 2013, Wilma Thomas wasn’t happy, and wasn’t without worry.
“I had a fit when they closed the hospital,” said Thomas, 84, a retiree who dotes on her six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“It’s really sad,” Thomas said. “In an emergency, we don’t have anywhere to go if I get sick, or if any of my family gets sick.”
When the University of Mississippi Medical Center announced last December that it would open an after-hours acute care clinic in Belzoni, Thomas said, she was relieved. “Yazoo City is 40 miles away,” she said. “Greenville, Greenwood … They’re all the same distance away. We needed this badly.”
The UMMC Community Care Clinic is located in the Humphreys County Sherrill Building, 16463 Highway 49 North. It will begin seeing patients later this fall and includes a classroom for community education, a fitness area and a walking trail. Nurse practitioners and nurses will give care from 3-11 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
The Medical Center is partnering with the Humphreys County Board of Supervisors in creating the clinic. The building houses other tenants, including the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
More than 200 people packed the clinic’s classroom and lined the walls August 29 for a ribbon cutting to celebrate as Medical Center and local leaders emphasized the need for health care at home.
“This is a prime example of what happens when a community and people work together,” U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who played a pivotal role in the clinic’s creation, told the crowd. “You’re now getting a little relief after working hours. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”
“Humphreys County is a rural and pretty poor place,” said Dickie Stevens, Board of Supervisors president. “Health care is not accessible really close by. Our local doctors do a great job during business hours, but after hours and on weekends, there’s a terrible void since the closing of our hospital.”
The walk-in urgent care clinic won’t offer primary care, because there are two primary care clinics in 2,000-resident Belzoni that usually close weekdays at 5. Instead, the clinic will offer services for non-life threatening acute illness and injury that don’t require an emergency room visit. It targets the 9,000 residents of Humphreys County and the surrounding area.
“It’s so critical,” Delta native Will Simpson, policy advisor and counsel for Gov. Phil Bryant, said at the gathering. “People, and particularly children, don’t get sick on a schedule. This clinic will allow people to get to the doctor when they need to go to the doctor and when their schedule fits it.”
Staff including family nurse practitioner Rona Huey of Indianola will treat patients for routine illnesses that can include acute or short-term pain, headaches, cough, minor injuries, fever and rashes. “The goal is to stabilize the patient and refer them to their primary care provider, or stabilize and recommend the next higher level of care,” said Dr. Tonya Moore, community health services administrator at the UMMC Center for Telehealth. Moore spearheaded the Belzoni clinic project.
Huey said her love for treating rural patients motivated her to seek the clinic post.
“I know it will be an opportunity for me to make a difference in this community,” she said. “It’s a passion of mine to be of service, and to work with UMMC. The hospital has really helped my family.”
One of her patients likely will be Twyla Courts of Belzoni, who came to the ribbon cutting and got free sunscreen samples and tips on skin care from Dr. Jasmine Hollinger, assistant professor of dermatology. Hollinger will see patients at the clinic one day a month, saving residents from driving to Jackson or another city that has that specialty.
“I came to check out the new clinic,” Courts said. “It’s wonderful that they are doing this for our community. Everybody needs help, and it’s affordable.”
A key component will be the use of telehealth to connect patients to specialty care at UMMC. Telehealth allows doctors and other health practitioners to treat patients remotely using online streaming video technology and other tools for two-way live communication.
Plans for the classroom space call for it to be used as a distance-learning education site focusing on medical education and training for health care professionals and pre-professional students in the Delta area, Moore said. Patients also will be educated on chronic health conditions and how to manage them in order to improve their health outcomes and quality of life. Education topics include nutrition, weight management and medication management.
During the clinic celebration, Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, especially thanked Thompson for bringing the clinic to reality.
“He’s the one who called us and said, ‘We need some help in Belzoni,’’’ Woodward said. “It’s important that the Medical Center engages with a community like this and supports the health care infrastructure.
“People worked across the spectrum so that we at the Medical Center can be part of the solution, and when possible, keep citizens at home for their health care,” Woodward said.
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