Supporting Sustainable Health Care in the Delta
As we head into the Labor Day weekend, we are mindful of the people of southeast Texas who are suffering unimaginable hardship from the floods of Hurricane Harvey. As I write this, we are assisting federal and state agencies with the placement of patients evacuated from Houston-area hospitals to facilities in the metro area, including our own. We will do whatever we can to help our colleagues and the state of Texas, and keep them in our thoughts and prayers.
And while I’m on the subject, I was in our Emergency Department yesterday morning as members of our disaster response team – led by Dr. Jonathan Wilson, Donna Norris and Jason Smith – participated in a conference call on developments in Texas. Words alone can’t convey how much I appreciate this group and their colleagues who keep us ready to respond at all times.
Now on to today's topic. This last Tuesday I had the opportunity to be in Belzoni, where we dedicated the new UMMC Community Care Clinic – Humphreys County. This is an after-hours, urgent care clinic that will fill a huge void for this Mississippi Delta county of 9,000 people.
A few years ago, the local hospital closed after suffering declining fortunes for some time, a victim of the new economics of health care. Although Belzoni has several physicians – including the father-son duo of Drs. Mac and Carlton Gorton, two of our distinguished medical school alumni – they are not able to keep their practices open evenings and weekends.
Led by the county supervisors and Congressman Bennie Thompson, the community pulled together to look for solutions, which they found in a partnership with UMMC.
The result is an acute care clinic that will be open every weekday from 3 to 11 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. Staffed by a nurse practitioner and a small support team, the clinic will rely on a robust connection with the UMMC’s Center for Telehealth. With a large classroom, a fitness area and an expansive indoor walking trail, the clinic will place a big emphasis on prevention, wellness and health education, and a number of our specialists will make regular visits.
We’re grateful for the support of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Delta Regional Authority for grant funding that helped support this initiative. And special thanks go to our own Dr. Tonya Moore, UMMC community health services administrator, for seeing this project through to completion.
With this new clinic, we welcome the future of health care in rural Mississippi. Or at least one version of it, for there will be variations on this theme in other locations.
In the future, UMMC and others will partner with communities to apply resources – human, financial, technological – in ways that allow us to support a sustainable health care presence in parts of our state that are less populous and medically underserved.
The old model of having a hospital in just about every county in the state is passing from the scene. We need creative solutions that will work in health care’s new economic reality.
UMMC can graduate physicians, nurse practitioners and other health care providers – and we are doing that in volumes not seen in many years – but we and others have to ensure that the areas most in need of health care providers can support and sustain them in practice over many years. In turn, this health care presence will be an essential building block in the local economy.
For this partnership and future ones like it, we know that telehealth will be a crucial piece of the puzzle. We’re fortunate that we have a top-ranked telehealth program with more than 200 service sites around the state.
Although it did not factor into this project, passage of the Health Care Collaboration Act of 2017 will make it much easier for UMMC to partner with local communities on initiatives just like this one in the future. We’re grateful to the Legislature for this flexibility.
Finally, the local community can’t sit on the sidelines; it has to be part of the solution. If the enthusiasm of the standing-room-only crowd last Tuesday is any indication, the people of Humphreys County are “all in” on their new after-hours clinic.
As you know, UMMC has missions of education, research and health care. I like to boil those down to one overarching goal: A Healthier Mississippi. That doesn’t just mean in the Jackson metro area or the state’s larger cities. That means every corner of our state, including the Mississippi Delta. With this new clinic in Humphreys County, we’re that much closer to our goal.