A Busy Week of Government Goings-On
As we begin winding up the academic year, there is so much going on in our world of governance and government affairs that I wanted to give you a brief update on a few things.
As you may have seen in news reports, social media and eCV, on Wednesday the university formally named our medical education building in honor of Gov. Phil Bryant. In 2013 and 2014, the Mississippi State Legislature awarded bond money to UMMC to construct the new facility. Even before he became governor, Phil Bryant was a champion for this effort and saw it through to completion. Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter introduced Gov. Bryant and officially announced the new name just before the “reveal” of a sign at the entrance to the building.
The Governor was clearly touched by this honor and emphasized, as he always has, that the building is “a collective accomplishment” of many people and that its real importance is the increased number of future physicians who will learn the art and science of medicine there. “The naming of this remarkable facility will soon fade into history, but its results will benefit Mississippians for generations to come,” he said. I add my thanks to Gov. Bryant not only for his support of this project but for all his advocacy on our behalf throughout the years. I also want to recognize First Lady Deborah Bryant, who was on hand for the occasion, for her tireless support of Children’s of Mississippi and her ongoing leadership role in its expansion campaign.
Most of the Institutions of Higher Learning trustees were able to attend the ceremony. This is a year that trustees transition off the board and new members are appointed by the governor for nine-year terms. Rotating off this cycle are trustees Alan Perry, Christy Pickering, Dr. Doug Rouse and C. D. Smith. I appreciate their service and the opportunity to work with them as vice chancellor for health affairs. They have been very diligent and have worked hard to understand the issues that are vital to academic medical centers, issues that can differ significantly from what other IHL-member institutions grapple with.
I was also pleased to see that several of the newly appointed board members were able to attend Wednesday’s event. The four new members, pending approval by the state Senate, include Dr. Steven Cunningham, a radiologist from Hattiesburg; Jeanne Luckey, a real estate developer from Ocean Springs; Bruce Martin, an insurance executive in Meridian; and Powell “Gee” Ogletree Jr., an attorney practicing in Jackson. My leadership team and I congratulate these new trustees and look forward to working with them in concert with Chancellor Vitter.
The Legislature continues working toward adjournment at the end of this month. They are now in the conference phase, where members of the House and Senate consider bills from the other chamber and work to reconcile any differences. As you may have read, a bill that allows UMMC to move forward with a plan to disinter, archive and memorialize remains of residents of the old state asylum buried on the northeast quadrant of the campus has passed both houses and has been sent to the Governor for his approval. We will still need to identify a funding source to implement this plan. Still pending at the capitol with implications for us are the Medicaid “technical” bill, the bond bill for capital projects, and of course, our appropriations bill, which funds a significant portion of our education mission. There’s a lot at stake during the next eight or nine days, so we are watching closely. You could say it’s our own version of “March Madness!”
While I’m on the topic of government relations, I’ll take this opportunity to publicly thank U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, who will be stepping down at the end of this month after a distinguished 40-year tenure. It’s probably impossible to quantify what Sen. Cochran has meant to our state and to UMMC in particular through the years, but suffice it to say he has been very good to us and for us. And in an era when public faith in our national political institutions has eroded, he has represented our state with class and integrity. Thank you, Sen. Cochran; we will truly miss you.
With Sen. Cochran leaving, my congratulations go to Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed Wednesday by Gov. Bryant to complete Sen. Cochran’s unexpired term. Currently Mississippi’s commissioner of agriculture and commerce, and now the first woman U.S. senator from Mississippi, she is well-prepared for this role. A few years ago when Hyde-Smith was in the state Senate, we were honored to host her and a number of her colleagues in an intense, two-day program called “Legislator in the Lab,” designed to acquaint legislators with the workings of academic medical centers. We look forward to collaborating with her and her staff in the months ahead.
As a public institution that relies in part on government-managed sources of revenue in each of our missions, UMMC has to maintain an effective working relationship with government at all levels. I probably spend a quarter of my time in this area, and much more at this point in the year. It’s time-consuming and has more than its share of frustrations, but most people involved in this process are well-meaning and almost always recognize and respect the vital role of UMMC – and the work all of you do every day – in helping us reach our goal of A Healthier Mississippi.