Jackson garners $20 million in federal legislation for water woes


Jackson garners $20 million in federal legislation for water woes

The federal government is providing $20 million for the troubled Jackson water system in legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives Friday by a 230-201 margin.

The bill passed the Senate earlier this week.

The bill will avert a partial government shutdown and continue funding of the federal government through Dec. 16. will sign the legislation into law before midnight Friday when the current funding authorization expires.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, the lone Democrat in the state’s congressional delegation, voted for the proposal while the three House Republicans – Michael Guest, Trent and Steven Palazzo — voted no. Thompson and Guest both represent portions of Jackson.

Mississippi’s two U.S. senators, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, both Republican, voted for the proposal when it passed their chamber.

“I support providing additional resources to help the city of Jackson address its water infrastructure needs,” Wicker said. “The $20 million included in this funding legislation would build on the initial $5 million provided by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers earlier this year through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. I recognize this funding will not be enough to address the long-standing water infrastructure issues in Jackson, but this is a good start.

A Wicker release went on to explain, “The 2007 Water Resources Development Act authorized $25 million for the city of Jackson’s water and wastewater infrastructure needs. This authorization was provided through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Section 219 Environmental Infrastructure Assistance Program. The city received an initial $5 million appropriation from that authorization earlier this year, which will enable the Corps of Engineers to complete projects in partnership with the city.”

Politico reported at one time Thompson was trying to incorporate into the legislation funding the government an additional $200 million for the City of Jackson. Despite the much smaller appropriation to the city, Thompson, like all congressional Democrats, voted for the proposal.

In a statement, Guest said he voted against the funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, because, “Mississippians are experiencing record high inflation.  I have and will continue to fight for legislation that restricts the size of government and addresses our national debt.

As far the $20 million in the bill for Jackson, Guest said, “I continue to be committed to working with local, state, and federal leaders to help with long-term solutions to the Jackson water system problem, but the continuing resolution did not address the situation on a long-term basis. The continuing resolution included concerning levels of spending and a risk for additional inflation that the people of our state cannot afford.”

Both the president and Gov. Tate Reeves issued emergency declarations in late August and early September when the system malfunctioned leaving no water pressure for many of the about 180,000 customers of the system. Water pressure has been restored and boil water notices that lasted for much of the summer have for the most part been lifted.

But officials say the system still faces long-term problems that some estimate will cost as much as $1 billion to fix.

The City of Jackson has committed to spend between $27 million and $34 million of the federal relief funds it received to draw down on a dollar-for-dollar basis COVID-19 relief money the state received from the federal government. also is committing about $17 million of its COVID-19 relief funds for the project.

Often, the Republican leaders of the state and the Democratic leaders of Jackson, the state’s capital and largest city, have been at odds on how to fix the water system.

Last week federal Environmental Protection Agency officials met with Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba and voiced a desire to work with city officials to solve the problems with the water system. But in a letter to city officials the EPA said it is prepared to take action under federal law if “an enforceable agreement that is in the best interest of both the city and the United States” is not reached.

Lumumba has said cooperative work is under way.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Southwest Mississippian Aims to Tap Cancer Out


by Rebecca Turner, Our Mississippi Home

Jiu-Jitsu is a modern martial arts discipline with ancient roots, and it is growing in popularity in Mississippi. Unlike other martial arts that focus on strikes and kicks, jiu-jitsu focuses on close-contact “grappling” holds and techniques and applying chokes and joint manipulations. Even though it can take Jiu-Jitsu students seven to ten years to earn a black belt rank, it is a sport that anyone can learn at any age and has the added benefit of doubling as self-defense skills. Not to mention, it’s a great way to get and stay in fighting shape.

Stephen Lusk of Southwest Mississippi started training Jiu- Jitsu after a bout with COVID and hasn’t looked back since. “After I got for the second time, I knew I needed to do something to get healthier,” said Lusk. “I…

This article first appeared on Our Mississippi Home.

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4 Mississippi judges tapped to help with backlog of cases

90 views – Associated Press – 2022-09-26 08:08:43

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Four former circuit court judges will help handle a backlog of criminal cases that have accumulated in Mississippi’s largest county during the pandemic.

Chief Justice Mike Randolph appointed Stephen B. Simpson of , Andrew K. Howorth of Oxford, Betty W. Sanders of Greenwood and Frank G. Vollor of Vicksburg.

Administrative Office of Courts director Greg Snowden said in a release Thursday that has an urgent need to handle cases that were postponed when courtrooms were closed to prevent the…

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Fall festivals on slate for Jackson, MS, area through mid-October

115 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-09-25 21:02:59

Summer has turned to fall and cooler temperatures traditionally bring a large number of outdoor festivals and community events to metro Jackson.

And while the pandemic slowed that down somewhat in recent years, the tradition appears to be back in full force for 2022. WellFest, the family-friendly event in Jackson and Gluckstadt’s Germanfest were both held over the past weekend.

Below is a roundup of some of the outstanding events scheduled for the Jackson area between now and mid-October.

Sept. 26 – Oct. 2: Sanderson Farms Championship

Former champion (2012) Scott Stallings hits a shot from the 1st fairway in the Allen Exploration Pro-Am at the Sanderson Farms Championship on Wednesday, September 18, 2019, at the Country Club of Jackson in Jackson, Miss.

The 2022 Sanderson Farms Championship will be…

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Inside the final days of Mississippi’s only burn center


‘Very concerned about our patients’: Inside the final days of Mississippi’s only burn center

Aiden Robinson of Brandon might look a lot different today if not for the care he received at the JMS Burn and Reconstruction Center in Jackson in 2019. 

Aiden, who was 9 years old at the time, was cooking with his father at their home when he accidentally dumped a pot of boiling water on himself, burning over 80% of his body. 

“For best results, burn patients need to be seen as soon as possible. Not all doctors or ER staff even know how to treat the skin of a burn victim, so my fear is, what’s going to happen to those patients now?” said Aiden’s mother Kristel Robinson. 

Kristel is referring to the closure of the burn center that cared for her son three years ago. Merit Health Central, where the program is housed, announced in early September the program  would close in October. It is the only accredited burn program in the state.

In 2021, the center saw nearly 2,000 admissions and 7,261 clinical visits. Surgical cases totaled 2,776. 

Aiden lies in the hospital bed at JMS Burn and Reconstruction Center in 2019 after a cooking at his home.

Now, several employees of the burn center at Merit Health, who did not wish to be named because they feared retribution from their current or future employers, say they are scrambling to find a new home for the program. They were given just over a month’s notice that the program would be closed, they said, and moving the program to one of the other eight Merit Health locations in the state was not something that interested Merit Health or its parent company Community Health Systems. 

“We were told Sept. 7 that we had until Oct. 14 to get out,” one employee told Mississippi Today. “Shock was an understatement due to seeing 600-plus patients a month. We are very concerned for our patients.”

Another employee also felt blindsided. 

“For something that’s as vital to the community as this – (it was), we’ll go with, aggressive,” another employee said of the hospital’s decision. 

Officials with the hospital did not respond to questions from Mississippi Today by the time of publication. 

In the September statement announcing the closure, hospital officials cited the pandemic and recruitment challenges. 

“The pandemic and the challenging staffing and recruitment environment have made it increasingly difficult for us to recruit the breadth of specialists needed to maintain the burn program, which is the primary reason we’ve made the difficult decision to close the Burn Center effective Oct. 14, 2022,” the statement said. 

While employees reel from the shock of the announcement, leaders are in conversations with hospitals about opening the burn center elsewhere, and they are hopeful things move quickly. 

After Oct. 14, however, patients will be redirected to one of the regional burn centers in Augusta, Ga., Memphis, Tenn., Mobile, Ala., or New Orleans, La.

Mississippi’s burn programs in recent years have not fared well. The program formerly run in Greenville by Delta Regional Medical Center closed in 2005. Merit Health opened its burn center with the Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America in 2008.

In 2006, before Merit Health agreed to start a center, state lawmakers approached then vice chancellor of the , Dr. Dan Jones. 

“The finances of burn care at the time were far less than ideal. Unfortunately, like many health problems, this affects families who have lower incomes more than it does other families … The same problem that was happening in Greenville would become our problem,” Jones said.

He said he went to the Legislature to ask for a yearly commitment to help UMMC run the program. Lawmakers offered UMMC one-time money but no commitment for ongoing funds. 

Aiden Robinson, 11, shows the scar left behind after he was accidentally burned in 2019. Aiden was treated at the state’s only burn center, the JMS Burn and Reconstruction Center, which is set to close in October.

“We made the hard decision that we couldn’t do that,” he said. 

Now, more than 10 years later, when asked by Mississippi Today if UMMC is considering taking on a burn center, officials declined to comment.

Before Aiden’s injury, Kristel knew nothing about the burn program. When she and her husband called the ambulance, she assumed Aiden would be taken to Children’s of Mississippi.

“When we arrived (at the burn center), we didn’t have to wait because he was so severe. They let us know that night there was a window of time the doctors needed to save the skin,” she said. “(In order to have) as few surgeries as possible and for recovery to be easier, he would need surgery that night.”

One of the procedures he had was done on his ear. At the time, only three doctors in the country were performing it, Kristel said.

Aiden Robinson is photographed in Florida in the summer of this year.

“We’re not just losing a hospital, we’re losing talented doctors, nurses, OT and PTs by the close of this center,” she said. 

Aiden required a year of treatment, including some physical therapy, after the accident. He received all of his follow-up care at the burn center clinic, his mom said. 

Today, Aiden is 11 years old. The only remnant of his accident is one small scar on his arm and skin that’s extra sensitive to the sun.

“If someone would have told me in 2019 that Aiden would be able to live without scars, I wouldn’t have believed them,” said Kristel.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Jackson businesses: ‘Slow bleed’ of the water crisis on finances needs more aid than loans 


Jackson businesses: ‘Slow bleed’ of the water crisis on finances needs more aid than loans 

Several Jackson restaurateurs won’t be using the low-interest loan program Gov. Tate Reeves said would “go a long way” to assist businesses as the city’s troubled water system hangs overhead. 

And they can’t imagine many of their peers will, either. 

It’s not that the businesses don’t need a lifeline. It’s that they don’t want to pile on more financial commitments while the water system and the city’s future feels unstable. Most operators already took out similar low-interest loans the Small Business Administration deployed in response to the pandemic.

Most businesses haven’t even started paying back those loans and many loaded up credit cards so they could afford bottled water and extra supplies to stay open during the water system’s seven-week failure. 

“This has been more like a slow bleed than a car crash,” said Jennifer Emerson, who owns Fondren’s Walker’s Drive-in with her husband. “And no one wants to incur more debt.” 

The SBA says about 60 businesses have started the application process so far. Lesley Hill, a public affairs specialist with SBA, said applying for and being offered a loan doesn’t mean a business has to accept it if the owner decides it isn’t the right fit later on. Businesses who don’t take an offered loan also have six months to go back and accept if needed. 

Despite the end of the boil-water notice a week ago and politicians encouraging citizens to spend money downtown, restaurateurs told Mississippi Today sales have improved a little but are still lagging – down by anywhere from 25% to 40%.

Fondren business owners say they’re on edge knowing the coming month’s cold weather will likely bring more problems. Last winter, several businesses in the downtown district were left without water for more than two weeks when frozen pipes burst.

“I’d rather see a plan in place,” Emerson said. “It’s hard to get people who live in Jackson back, and it’s impossible to get people from the suburbs back, if they don’t have the confidence that the water is safe and clean.” 

Reeves announced the water was safe last week, after tests at the plant came back clear for two days in a row. But owners said people are still skeptical and that has bled into their bottom lines in an industry already known for low profit margins. 

“We recognize people already have SBA loans, COVID loans, and that the last two-and-a-half years have been trying on everyone,” Hill said. “Businesses have been affected to the point they’re no longer able to survive.” 

Hill said businesses uninterested in loans should still come to their Business Recovery Center inside the Metro Jackson Chamber of Commerce building to be connected to free financial services with a partner group – some of whom have grant programs. 

Dana Koenig, the manager of the Aladdin Mediterranean Grill, said the nearly seven-week boil-water notice was a nightmare to navigate. It was a scramble to get to Sam’s Club to get enough water just to wash vegetables. There were days the business shifted just to take out because they barely had water pressure.

“A grant I could understand,” Koenig said. “But a loan? How about not making us pay sewage bills for the days we didn’t have water.” 

Visit Jackson, the city’s bureau, has launched a small grant program but the payouts for businesses with 50-seats or fewer are $500 and for those with more than 200 seats up to $2,000. That’s the price range most businesses told Mississippi Today they were spending on water and ice just to get through a single week.

The Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan program offers Jackson businesses loans with interest rates as low as 3.04% and payback period of up to 30 years. 

The loans are often used by businesses who have been leveled by hurricanes or other natural disasters. Jeff Good, who operates Sal & Mookie’s and two other Jackson restaurants, called the loan program generous but not the right fit for what most of the city’s businesses need.

“For most of us restaurateurs in Jackson, a loan, which we must pay back, is yet another negative financial burden which we simply cannot justify,” Good said. “We simply want our operating environment to stabilize. We want water. We want safety. We want quality of life.”

Ezra Brown, owner of Soulé Coffee + Bubbletea, located in the Fondren District in Jackson, Friday, Sept. 16, 2022.

Ezra Brown, the owner of Fondren’s new bubble tea shop Soulé, also won’t be applying for the loan program. He said he’s working on digging himself out of debt, not adding more. 

“All we want to do is pay our taxes and deliver smiles,” he said of himself and area business owners.

He has other Soulé locations in South Carolina. He took out SBA loans to get through the throes of the pandemic and then hit the water crisis as soon as he opened in Jackson.

He would like to see state and city leadership create better contingency plans. Most business owners agree: Until the system is overhauled, it’s not a matter of if there’s another outage or boil-water notice but when. 

“If or when this happens again: What do we do? Who do I call on? Is a truck coming to deliver emergency water?” Brown said. “A five-gallon would be great. Just something that makes sense.”

Brown is working on refitting his equipment with his own filter and abilities to go off the water grid. But he wishes he’d be able to rely on the city – and a well-explained plan to fix the water system to ease everyone’s mind and security.

“We have been rallying around each other,” Brown said. “I think the community has gained more momentum helping each other out of a bad situation.” 

He has noticed more people coming back downtown. They’re leery still, he said. But with running clean water, he’s finally seeing more smiles. 

At least that’s something. 

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Legislative leaders weigh impact of inflation, odds of recession


Legislative leaders weigh impact of inflation, odds of recession

State Economist Corey Miller told legislative leaders that nationally there is a 35% chance of “a modest recession” during the upcoming calendar year.

 Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said he believes odds of a recession are much higher.

“I believe we will have a recession…,” Hosemann told reporters during a break in the hearing attended by him, House Speaker Philip Gunn and other key lawmakers who make up the Legislative Budget Committee.

Hosemann pointed out that Miller and other economists projected inflation of about 2.5% for the year and thus far it has been more than 8%.

“I think we need to be preparing for all the issues we face that come from a recession,” Hosemann added.

Overall, Miller said the state has slowed considerably during the current fiscal year but that both the state and national economies remain “resilient.”

“In summary, the U.S. and Mississippi economies have slowed and the risk of recession is elevated, but not the base case. Inflation remains historically high but may have peaked,” Miller said. “The Federal Reserve will continue to raise interest rates to reduce demand, which should bring down inflation.”

Miller pointed out that nationally the number of people working had surpassed the pre-pandemic levels of February 2020. Mississippi remains 10,900 jobs below the number employed in February 2020.

Members of the Legislative Budget Committee normally receive a report from the state economist as they begin work on a budget recommendation that generally serves as a guideline for the full Legislature when it convenes in January to begin work on crafting a budget for the new fiscal year that begins on July 1.

Legislators said they budgeted conservatively in the 2022 session despite unprecedented revenue collections and should do so again in 2023.

Hosemann said lawmakers held back about $350 million in federal pandemic money last session and it could be spent in the coming year to help stave off an economic downturn in Mississippi.

“If people are out working on public projects we fund with that, it will lessen the chance of a significant impact here,” the lieutenant governor said.

Getting more people working in Mississippi remains an issue, Miller said. The state’s labor force participation rate, which accounts for all eligible to enter the workforce, remains one of the lowest in the nation, Miller said, at 55.2%. The pre-pandemic level was 56.2%.

The national labor force participation rate is 62.4% – a percentage point lower than the pre-pandemic rate.

Several factors could impact the lower numbers, including people retiring early and long-term symptoms of .

The bottom line, Miller said, is that multiple factors are driving the high inflation, including higher wages driven by a lack of workers, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and supply shortages affected in part by China’s refusal to fully ramp up because of COVID-19 fears. Even the issue of fewer immigrant workers is contributing to the lack of workers.

While there might be disagreement on the extent of a economic downturn in Mississippi, it is a certainty that inflation has impacted all Mississippians. During the 2023 session, legislators will have to consider whether a salary increase for state workers is needed to deal with inflationary factor.

Hardwick, executive director of the State Personnel Board, told Budget Committee members he wanted more time to consider the size of any pay increase to recommend to the Legislature. But he said he expects it would be about 1.5% a year over several years, or a one-time increase of about 5%.

Both Wendy Bailey, executive director of Mental Health, and Burl Cain, corrections commissioner, said increasing pay for their employees is a key goal.

Bailey asked the Budget Committee members for a $26.6 million increase in general fund revenue to $247.7 million. A large part of the raise would go for salary increases.

She said the agency is having a difficult time  competing with fast food workers for primary care workers. And salary increases are needed for nurses and other advanced employees.

Bailey also asked for funds to continue to adhere to demands from a U.S. Department of Justice to provide treatment when possible on the community level instead in state institutions.

The Department of Corrections is trying to avoid a Department of Justice lawsuit based on poor conditions in Mississippi prisons. The lack of adequate staff continues to be an area of concern for DOJ.

“We do not have adequate staffing to manage our population,” Cain said.

Cain is asking lawmakers for a $32-million increase to his budget. Most of that, about $20 million, would be to cover rising medical costs for inmates. About $7.5 million would be increased per diem paid to private prisons for state inmates.

Child Protection Services, the agency that runs the state’s long-troubled foster care system, is asking lawmakers for a $15 million increase, mostly to provide increased subsidies for people who adopt children in state custody.

Andrea Sanders, CPS commissioner, said Mississippi pays less – by about half — to families who adopt children from custody than it does to foster parents. Sanders says this incentivizes people to stay in the foster program rather than adopt children.

Sanders said that the federal government will match, at nearly one-to-one, the state funded subsidies for adoption.

“State agencies will always be a poor substitute for a family,” Sanders said.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

Staff, services ‘dwindling’ at South Jackson hospital


Merit Health Central is moving many services from Jackson to the suburbs. Employees wonder what’s next

by Kate Royals,
September 21, 2022

Merit Health Central is struggling: services and units are closing or being moved, and current and former employees say the hospital is unable to maintain safe staffing levels. 

The private hospital, one of nine Merit Health facilities in the state, has already moved or is planning to move its cardiovascular services, neonatal intensive care unit and endoscopy to other Merit Health locations outside of Jackson. The hospital is also planning to “consolidate” its behavioral health beds, according to records with the Mississippi Department of Health, though it is unclear where. 

And the hospital garnered headlines in early September for announcing it would close its  burn center — the only such program in the state.

Meanwhile, several current and former staffers of the hospital interviewed by Mississippi Today said many employees have left or are seeking employment elsewhere, often leading to shifts that aren’t fully or properly staffed.

Merit Health Central declined Mississippi Today’s request for an interview for the story with someone in administration but provided several emailed statements.

“The five Jackson-area Merit Health hospitals share a commitment to serve residents of Jackson and the surrounding region,” said Jana Fuss, director of marketing at Merit Health. “We regularly review our operations and evaluate how we can best apply our resources to offer needed services and strengthen our operations.”

The hospital’s struggles could have an outsized effect on the livelihood of many Jacksonians and those who live in rural parts of . Merit Health Central, formerly Hinds General Hospital, has long been a and employment hub in south and west Jackson — majority-Black neighborhoods that have a higher concentration of people living in poverty than the rest of the city.

According to U.S. Census data, the neighborhood the hospital is located in is 87% Black and 9% white. The median income for families is $29,500. 

In contrast, Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, where many services are being moved, is 61% white and 28% Black. Its median income is $46,389 — 57% higher than the south Jackson neighborhood. 

State Sen. Sollie Norwood, D-Jackson, whose district includes Merit Health Central, had not heard about any changes at the hospital other than the closing of the burn unit. He said he fears what a drastic change would mean for the residents he represents.

“We don’t need to reduce the accessibility of (health care) at this time,” Norwood said. 

The Jackson hospital reported the largest amount of net uninsured costs, or cost of services for which the patient had no insurance coverage, of any of the Merit Health hospitals in the state for fiscal year 2022. The hospital reported nearly $16 million in net uninsured costs. The next-highest, Merit Health , reported just $7.9 million. 

The hospital is owned by the county and leased by Merit Health’s Nashville-based parent company, Community Health Systems. Community Health Systems made headlines recently for its financial challenges: the company reported a $327 million net loss in the first half of 2022, and Fitch Ratings downgraded the company’s rating outlook from stable to negative. 

Fuss declined to answer questions about how that has impacted Merit Central specifically.

She pointed to the pandemic and the “challenging staffing and recruitment environment” as contributors to the closing of the burn center. They have made it difficult to hire the specialists needed to run the burn program, she said, adding that the hospital has been in discussions with other regional providers interested in potentially establishing such a program.  

On top of the ongoing problems, the hospital, which runs on city water, recently hemorrhaged money bringing in water tankers amid the city’s months-long boil water notice.

Mississippi Today spoke with several current and former staffers at Merit Central for this story. None of the employees were willing to speak on the record because they feared retribution from their current or future employers.

One employee said the hospital staff is “dwindling,” and most employees are looking for jobs elsewhere. 

“People in various departments (who) have been told they will likely be impacted are leaving for other opportunities, and it is because they feel there will no longer be opportunities here… We have basically been told since this came to light that it will be predominantly a psych facility,” she said. 

Rumors are swirling at Merit Central that the long term plan for the hospital is to transition to a majority psychiatric facility, and records from the Mississippi Department of Health also show the hospital intends to “consolidate” its behavioral health beds.

The facility currently has 71 behavioral health beds with an occupancy rate of around 80%, according to state health department records from 2020. 

The hospital had been struggling before the pandemic, but things got worse during it, according to three former employees who worked in the emergency department but have since left.

They said staffing levels were, at times, unsafe – so much so that on certain occasions when the next shift’s nurses arrived to take over, they would refuse.

“There were several instances where we didn’t have – we didn’t know how to give reports because you were going to be handing a 20-bed ER to one nurse,” one former employee said. 

The hospital terminated its contracts with travel nurse staffing agencies, including a local agency, the employees said. At the same time, the hospital decreased the remaining nurses’ pay and took away incentives – an unusual move at a time when most other hospitals were offering financial incentives to battle the nursing shortage exacerbated by the pandemic.  

The result was severe understaffing, several employees told Mississippi Today, and the nurses who remained were frustrated and overwhelmed. Instead of the six to seven nurses previously covering each ER shift, there were between one and four, they said.  

“It caused frustrations, it caused further burnout, it caused some nurses to retire completely from nursing, and it caused a lot of other nurses who worked at Central to leave,” one nurse said. 

In response to questions about staffing, Fuss said the hospital is “working hard to recruit and retain permanent employees rather than relying on costly contract labor” and, as a result, services have been consolidated as a result. 

“As part of our work to retain employees, in select areas we have implemented market wage adjustments, added a student loan repayment program, increased our education reimbursement program, and covered the cost of any necessary licensure or training that is not already offered to employees at no cost to them,” she said in an emailed statement. 

Before the pandemic, the nurses said, the hospital was taking an inordinate amount of transfer patients – a sign they took to mean the hospital was desperate to bring in revenue.

“They would take every transfer from every outside hospital, utilized every room (in the ER) for admission holds that it got to the point where half of our ER capacity was admissions … We all kind of felt weird about the patients getting an inpatient bill, but they weren’t even making it upstairs (to the hospital floor) for 24 to 48 hours,” one nurse said.

Norwood, the state senator, said he plans to reach out to hospital officials this week and hopefully meet with them to “take a deeper dive into exactly what’s happening.”

One former employee has a guess as to what’s at play.

“I think a lot of it is contributed by business suits that work hundreds of miles away. People who are trying to answer mostly to shareholders rather than trying to treat a community,” the former nurse said.

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.


Elderly care providers struggle to stay afloat


Hit hard by pandemic, providers of care for the elderly struggle to stay afloat

PHILADELPHIA – Tanya Cook climbs into the gray van and starts her day as she always does: picking up the elderly to bring them to daycare. 

Cook, the transportation manager at New Beginnings Adult Day Care in Philadelphia, has a list that’s shorter today than she planned. Two participants canceled at the last minute, but they’ll have over 50 seniors at the center that day. 

Many adult daycare service providers in Mississippi are struggling or have closed in recent years due to low reimbursement rates from and years of legislative gridlock. The centers provide crucial services to elderly and disabled people and allow their caregivers to work and have lives outside of caretaking.

Before , New Beginnings averaged around 70 participants per day but now only sees 45 to 60 – still a marked improvement from the 30 or so they saw each day after a multi-month shutdown in 2020.

“They keep saying they’re going to wait until this is over,” Cook said. “I don’t know if this will ever be over. But some of them are slowly coming back.”

Adult daycare is a nearly invisible facet of the care system for elderly and disabled people. The centers provide transportation and meals, in addition to administering medication. Attendees participate in exercise and socialization activities. Often, they serve as participants’ only opportunity for social interaction outside of the home. 

Cook had never heard of adult daycare until she started working in one in Oct. 2017. In that time, she’s driven every route in the center’s service area. It covers eight counties total, stretching as far as Morton, more than an hour’s drive away. 

Cook remembers getting calls from participants one month into the COVID-19 shutdown where they asked: ‘Are you going to come get us?’

 “They’re stuck at home all day, so this is their way out of the house,” Cook said. 

That was the case for Jean Anderson, an 85-year-old Philadelphia native who has been coming to New Beginnings for over four years. After her husband passed away, her case worker asked if she’d like to start attending an adult daycare, and she agreed to try it out. 

“I was getting lonely at the house by myself,” Anderson said. “This keeps you from sitting there and doing nothing all day.” 

There were at least 126 adult daycare service providers across Mississippi pre-pandemic, but around 30% of them have closed permanently over the last few years, according to Benton Thompson, president of the Mississippi Association of Adult Day Services.

 “Their volume dropped due to COVID, and they couldn’t continue operations with the same overhead costs and limited revenue,” Thompson said. 

The bulk of those overhead costs come from staffing, which includes a family nurse practitioner and social worker, along with seven other required positions. Under quality assurance standards set by the Mississippi Division of Medicaid, each facility must maintain a minimum staff-to-participant ratio of one to six, or one to four in a facility that serves a high percentage of people who are severely impaired. 

The vast majority of those who use adult daycare services are enrolled in Medicaid’s Elderly & Disabled Waiver program. The waiver provides home and community-based services for Mississippians who would require nursing home level care if not for the alternative forms of care the waiver provides, like adult day care. At New Beginnings, 98% of its clients are on the waiver. As of June 2022, there were 17,022 waiver recipients across the state, according to the Mississippi Division of Medicaid.

The problem with this system, workers and advocates say, is that reimbursement rates have stagnated while costs have continued to rise, meaning only those who bring in a high number of participants can break even.

Currently, adult daycares receive a maximum reimbursement of $60 per person each day from Medicaid. They can only bill for up to four hours of care, though they’re required to be open for eight.

“We’re at the mercy of (Medicaid) case workers,” said Michelle McCool, administrator at New Beginnings. “It’s all based on numbers, and if they don’t refer clients to us, or if there’s a backlog of people waiting to get into the waiver program, we can’t survive.”

Some legislators have attempted to increase the reimbursement rate for adult daycare services every year since 2015. Each time, it has either died in committee or passed in both chambers, with each side unable to agree on a final version. 

If passed, the bills would have more than doubled the level of reimbursement that adult daycares like New Beginnings currently receive. Their per-person reimbursement would increase to $125 and the centers could also be reimbursed for transportation costs separately. Thompson believes the lack of awareness about adult day services is what has caused this repeated failure to act from lawmakers.

“I think it’s due to a lack of knowledge,” Thompson said. “I think most of them sitting up there in Jackson on these bills have never been to an adult day service and don’t understand the benefits.”

Thompson believes that expanded utilization of adult daycares would save the government money in the long run by preventing costly hospital stays and delaying costlier institutionalized care in a nursing home setting. He also pointed to the benefits for the primary caregivers of participants who have them, which sometimes provide the only way for them to run errands, work or just simply have a break.

“If you don’t give that caregiver a break, then they’re going to become a participant (person who needs adult daycare),” Thompson said. 

On Friday, Jeanette Carter is one of the few participants at New Beginnings dressed up for that day’s theme: Remembering 9/11. The 68-year-old is wearing a red, starry tank top and American baseball cap. She walks around the room, talking to her friends and looking for places to help out before the scavenger hunt.

Carter has been coming to New Beginnings nearly five days a week for over a year and a half. The only days she’s missed were due to catching COVID-19 in Oct. of last year. 

“If this place was open seven days a week, believe me, Jeanette would be here,” Carter said.

She only started coming to New Beginnings after the previous center she went to closed during the pandemic. In that brief period, she was scared of being stuck at home. 

“I get out of hand at times,” Carter said. “I can’t be nobody else but me and they understand me. I don’t know what I’d do without this place.”

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

New COVID-19 booster shot available in Mississippi


New COVID-19 booster shots available in Mississippi

The announced on Tuesday that appointments for the new bivalent booster shot are now available at all county health department clinics.

The Food and Drug Administration approved the new booster formulation on Aug. 31, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed suit the next day.  The release of the boosters is the largest part of government efforts to get ahead of a potential seasonal surge in infections. 

“We strongly recommend that anyone eligible should go ahead and receive the updated booster now to provide the best protection against COVID-19 infection and severe complications from COVID-19,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers said in a press release. “There is always the possibility of increased cases as we move into the fall and winter months. Don’t wait to protect yourself.”

The new booster shot is a bivalent vaccine, which means that it targets two versions of COVID-19. While the original booster shot only targeted the original strain of the virus, the new booster also targets the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants. 

Mississippians who want to get the new booster can make appointments through the website or by calling the health department’s COVID-19 hotline at 877-978-6453.

People aged 12 and older who have been fully vaccinated are eligible for the new booster, regardless of whether they received other booster doses. A person can only receive the new booster at least two months out from their last shot. 

If you’ve recently had COVID-19, you can receive a booster as soon as your isolation period ends. However, the CDC says you may consider delaying any additional shots by three months from when your symptoms started or you received a positive test. The reasoning behind this optional delay is that someone who has just recovered from COVID-19 will likely already have a high level of antibodies, which could cause the effects of additional shots to be reduced.

Children between the ages of 5 and 11 are only eligible for the original booster shot, though the FDA is working on making the new booster available for this age group. 

This is the first COVID-19 vaccine released to the public before data from human trials had been analyzed. The Biden Administration has the new booster to the annual flu shot, which is reformulated each year to target the latest versions of influenza and tested on animals before being released to the public.

An average of 832 cases per day are currently being reported across the state. However, the true infection rate is unknown because of the increased availability and utilization of at-home tests, which are not reported to the health department. The rate of cases, hospitalizations and deaths plummeted across the state after the peak of the omicron wave in January, but have been steadily increasing again since May.

Mississippi remains one of the least vaccinated states in America.  As of Sept. 8, 61% of the state’s population had received one dose, 53% were fully vaccinated and 21% had received a booster shot, according to CDC data. 

The state has reported 918,874 total cases, meaning that since the beginning of the pandemic, at least one-third of Mississippians have been infected with COVID-19. 12,821 Mississippians have died from the virus.  

This article first appeared on Mississippi Today and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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