Mississippi News

Rep. Yates’ controversial recall bill doesn’t include lawmakers. A Senate bill does.


Rep. Yates’ controversial recall bill doesn’t include lawmakers. A Senate bill does.

Two bills are pending in the Mississippi that would allow voters to recall their elected officials.

House Bill 370, authored by Shanda Yates, an independent from Jackson, would allow the recall of municipal elected officials.

Senate Bill 2299, authored by Jeremy England, a Republican from Vancleave, would allow voters to recall all elected officials, including himself and other legislators.

“I thought it was a fairness issue,” England said, explaining he did not want the law to allow voters to recall municipal and county officials and not officials.

Through a recall, voters can gather signatures to place a proposal on the ballot to vote an elected officialout of office. Normally, the way it works is if a majority votes to recall the official, he or she is from office. If a majority opposes the recall, the official remains in office.

England and Yates did not coordinate on their bills.

Yates has taken criticism from some African American members of the House who say her proposal is aimed directly at Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who has faced criticism and blame by many for the failures of the Jackson water system that has left residents at times without access to water.

Yates’ bill gives the governor the authority to establish a panel to decide if a recall should occur if 30% of the voters sign a petition in support of a recall. Many of the Black legislators have at times been critical of Lumumba, but they still balked at passing legislation to give Gov. Tate Reeves, who has constantly feuded with the mayor, so much authority over the Jackson mayor.

Rep. Robert Johnson, a Democrat from Natchez, questioned the timing of passing such legislation now that the federal government has provided Jackson more than $600 million to fix its water system that many contend both state and city officials have ignored for years.

Yates told her fellow House members that the bill is not aimed just at Lumumba, but covers all elected municipal officials. Yates, who represents a portion of Jackson, admitted that she filed the legislation after some of her constituents asked about recall possibilities.

In responding to her constituents, Yates said that she discovered existing law already allows for the removal of county officials through the process involving the governor, but the same law did not include municipal officials.

Yates said her bill just ensures that municipal officials have the same accountability as county officials. She added that state elected officials, including legislators and members of the judiciary, already can be removed during the middle of their terms through constitutional provisions.

Members of the executive, such as the governor or , and judges can be removed through a legislative impeachment process. Each chamber of the Legislature can one of its members for ethical lapses by a two-thirds vote.

But there is no mechanism in state law that allows Mississippi voters to recall a legislator or other state or judicial officials for ethical lapses or for general incompetence like currently is allowed for county officials.

England said he has filed his bill multiple years. He admits he first filed it because of concerns with municipal officials. But in filing the legislation, he reasoned it should apply to all elected officials and not just local officials.

“I put safeguards in the bill,” he said, explaining that there are time limits on when the recall can occur. For instance, the bill prohibits any recall effort early in an elected official’s term.

In addition, to place an elected official on the ballot for possible recall, 35% of the registered voters must sign a petition. For a legislator it would be 35% of registered voters in a member’s district. It would require 35% of the voters from across Mississippi equally divided among the congressional districts to recall a statewide official.

“I think it (the recall process) is good additional accountability,” said England.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states currently have some type of recall mechanism.

Yates said including her and her legislative colleagues in any recall process would be OK with her.

“I don’t have a problem with that,” she said.

Of course, Yates or any other member of the House could offer an amendment to her bill to include legislators. Or, if the England bill passes the Senate and makes it to the House, Yates could place her support behind that proposal instead of her bill. England’s bill accomplishes her goal of placing accountability on municipal officials.

Of course, it is far from certain that England’s Senate colleagues will pass his bill giving voters the authority to recall them.

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

A look inside one Mississippi mom’s life a year after giving birth


A look inside one Mississippi mom’s life a year after giving birth

HEIDELBERG – It’s 1 a.m. and Heidelberg native Courtney Darby, a mother of four, is sound asleep in her room with part of her leg wrapped in a cast due to a broken ankle. She is suddenly awakened by the sound of her 8-month-old son, R’Jay Jones, crying.

Her daughter, Deysha Ransom, 13, who is sleeping in the room next door, wakes up and springs into action. She brings R’Jay to Darby, who breastfeeds him until he falls asleep. Deysha returns R’Jay to his room, and everyone goes back to sleep.


Darby relies heavily on her daughter, who is now 14, to help with her son since she broke her ankle in May when R’Jay was 5 months old.

“My oldest daughter is the real MVP,” Darby said. “She does a lot because she understands my issues. During that time, it’s like she was experiencing what it was like being a mother.”

The happened when she was getting out of her SUV to go to work. The side step bar didn’t extend as usual, and her foot landed hard on the ground, twisting her ankle. She was taken to the hospital, where her ankle was treated and wrapped in a cast.

She went to surgery for pins and a plate to be placed in her ankle several days later on a Monday. The following Friday, she went to her doctor in Laurel, and she told him she was in extreme pain.

“He said it was normal,” Darby said.


The following week, on June 3, she went back to the doctor to tell him about the continued pain and how tight the cast was on her ankle.

“When they took the cast off, the doctor noticed drainage in my ankle,” she said. She left with a prescription for antibiotics.

But the pain medicine she got at the hospital was not giving her any relief.

“I went through pain that I never imagined,” Darby said.

Her mom, who is a nurse, noticed that the pain was abnormal. They called the hospital several times a week seeking answers. During a visit on July 15, the doctor denied her pain medication, citing the laws surrounding narcotics.

Tears began to roll down her cheek, and her voice cracked as she told him about her pain – including that it was so severe, she considered ending her life.

She went to the doctor about six times before she was finally diagnosed in early August with osteomyelitis, an inflammation in her bone that resulted in infection.Luckily, she was diagnosed and treated around the time she was expected back at her job as a teacher at Bay Springs High School.


Before her ankle injury, she dealt with postpartum depression. She started to receive counseling about three months after giving birth to R’Jay.

“That was a fight with the devil,” Darby said. “Sometimes it was very much so getting the best of me. I didn’t want to get out of bed or comb my hair.”

She was breastfeeding, so she had to push through, she said.

In January, right after giving birth to R’Jay, she received a letter stating that her coverage would stop in February. Then, Medicaid sent another letter saying it would be reinstated due to the public health emergency. She had secondary insurance through her job as well.


But even with Medicaid and her insurance, she still received medical bills that amounted to thousands of dollars.

“I don’t understand why I have to pay this much money out of pocket when I have Medicaid coverage and secondary insurance,” Darby said.

Darby’s story isn’t unique. She is one of many women in Mississippi who feels she is being pulled close to the ground.

Specifically, Black women in the state deal with more health disparities than any other state in the country. A recent report from the health department showed Black women in Mississippi are four times more likely to die in childbirth than their white counterparts.

The state has also not extended postpartum Medicaid coverage for women as most other states have done.

This is Darby’s story.

October -December

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

Legal fight over abortion continues in Mississippi


Legal fight over abortion continues in Mississippi

Recent legal wrangling over a 1998 ruling saying the Constitution provides a right to an highlights the uncertainty of Mississippi’s abortion ban.

On Friday the Mississippi Center for Justice and Democracy Forward filed a motion saying an anti-abortion filed by a group conservative doctors should be thrown out.

The motion said the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists does not have standing to bring the case. The case was filed in November in Chancery Court.

In the case, the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, on behalf of the doctors, is asking the Mississippi Supreme Court to overturn its 1998 ruling in Pro Choice that said the state Constitution provides a right to an abortion.

Rob McDuff, an attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice, said the group filing the case is an out-of-state organization that is “not suffering any injuries from the existence of this (Pro Mississippi v. Fordice) precedence. They don’t have a case that belongs in court.”

There are no abortion clinics in Mississippi and most view Mississippi as a state where most abortions are banned. But in reality, the state has been in a strange legal limbo since June when the U.S. Supreme Court in a case brought by Mississippi overturned the national right to an abortion guaranteed by .

Mississippi already had laws in place banning most abortions in the state when Roe was overturned. But what state leaders did not account for was the 1998 state ruling saying the Mississippi Constitution granted the right to an abortion.

The Mississippi Center for Justice, arguing on behalf of its client, Jackson Women’s Health Organization, then the only abortion clinic in the state, contended that abortion should continue to be legal unless the 1998 state Supreme Court ruling was overturned by a new ruling from Mississippi’s highest court.

In an unusual ruling in early July, Chancery Judge Debbra Halford of Meadville, appointed to hear the case by the state Supreme Court, refused to block the laws banning abortions. One of her primary reasons for not blocking the laws is because she predicted the current state Supreme Court would reverse the ruling providing a right to abortion in the Mississippi Constitution.

The Mississippi Center for Justice appealed to the Supreme Court. But the state’s highest court refused to take up the case on an expedited schedule. Amid the uncertainty, closed and the Mississippi Center for Justice dropped the appeal.

But in November the conservative leaning Mississippi Center for Public Policy filed a lawsuit to renew the case, claiming that because of the uncertainty caused by the existence of the 1998 Supreme Court ruling doctors who chose not to perform abortions could face punishment.

In Friday’s motion the Mississippi Center for Justice and Democracy Forward, both of which support abortion rights, said doctors face no penalties for not performing abortions in Mississippi and that the case should be dismissed.

The state already has intervened in the state. Lynn Fitch argued that based on the fact that the chancery judge did not uphold the lawsuit by Jackson Women’s Health Organization that most abortions in the state are banned and the Pro Choice Mississippi v. Fordice ruling no longer is the law.

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

‘There’s a hunger to see if we can pull this off’: Henifin talks next steps for funding Jackson water


‘There’s a hunger to see if we can pull this off’: Henifin talks next steps for funding Jackson water

Jackson water head Ted Henifin said Friday he would recommend to extend federal oversight of the city’s water system to five years, allowing his team to make the necessary infrastructure improvements using recently allocated federal funds.

During a press conference where he discussed his financial proposal for future funding of the city’s water system, Henifin also said a bill now before the may put a roadblock in the way of his planned changes to the water billing system.

Henifin emphasized that Jackson’s infrastructure is still in a place where the system could “fail tomorrow,” but that the roughly $800 million coming to Jackson will be enough to address the city’s issues as long as it can have a stable revenue plan moving forward.

“I’d say, yes, the (roughly) $1 billion is enough, once we’re on a good foundation moving forward,” he said.

His press conference Friday came hours after submitting a financial proposal to a federal judge. Henifin will spend the next few months receiving feedback from the public, with the goal of having a new revenue model to fund the water system in place on Oct. 1.

It also comes at the end of week where bills that would affect his billing plans and wrest control of the water system were making their way through the Legislature.

New bill could thwart changes to billing model

Henifin acknowledged Friday that he’s proposing a billing structure for residents based on customer’s property value rather than how much water a customer consumes, an idea aimed at restoring trust in the billing system and keeping rates affordable.

He explained that the median single family household would pay about $50 a month for water and sewer, similar to what that home would be paying now. In another example he gave, someone with a $100,000-valued property would be paying about $100 a month.

Bills would be capped at $150 a month for residential properties, he said, and at $600 for commercial properties.

As far as he knew, the only other utility in the country with such a model is Milwaukee with its wastewater system. He added that cities across the nation are looking to revamp their billing structures because traditional systems are making services unaffordable for poorer residents. Those places, he explained, will be paying close attention to how such a change would work in Jackson.

“There’s going to be a big hunger to see if we can pull this off and find a better way to do it,” Henifin said.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba (left) and water system’s third-party administrator Ted Henifin, answer questions regarding the current state of the city’s water system during a town hall meeting held at Forest Hill High School, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

While some water policy experts believe bills should have some connection to residents’ consumption to not strain a city’s infrastructure, Henifin said the city is losing so much water as it is — 25 million to 30 million gallons a day, or at least half of the 50 million gallons a day the city can produce — that consumption isn’t a concern.

“There’s no amount of conservation that our residents could do to make up for the amount we’re losing,” he said. “If (Jacksonians) decide to their sprinklers all day and take half hour showers every morning, it’s not going to make a difference to the mountain of water we’re losing.”

Per the recommendation of the state Health Department, Jackson has placed residents under a water conservation advisory since last summer.

The bigger concern, Henifin explained, is making sure the city has reliable revenue through its billing system, which has been plagued for years by faulty metering. That money, along with the recent federal funds, will go to upgrade the fragile water lines that are causing the city to lose so much of its water.

He added that a new hydraulic model for the city, which is near completion, will help show where the city’s leaks are. Because the city doesn’t have a model, “we’ve got little knowledge of what happens” when water leaves the two treatment plants, he said.

But changes to the city’s billing could be put on hold if state lawmakers have their way. On Thursday, the Senate approved a bill that would require cities to charge customers for water based on their consumption.

While the U.S. Department of Justice order appointing Henifin gave him broad authority, he clarified that it doesn’t allow him to violate state law, and that if the he bill is signed by Gov. Tate Reeves he may have to reconsider the plan.

When asked what it would mean for ratepayers if the city sticks to a consumption-based system, he said rates would have to go up 50% to generate the necessary revenue for the city. He added that some homes would see an increase in their bills with his proposal as well.

Motorists line up along Northside Drive for a water give-a-way at the Food Depot grocery store in Jackson on Feb. 19, 2021.

Bill that would shrink Jackson’s control

Henifin was also asked about another bill, which passed through a Senate committee on Tuesday, that would create a nine-member board to oversee Jackson’s water system when the DOJ lifts its current order; five of the appointments would be made by the governor and lieutenant governor, and just four would come from the Jackson’s mayor, effectively removing control from the city’s leadership.

The bill would also require the board to consult with the mayors of Byram and Ridgeland, despite the latter having sparse property that’s served by Jackson water.

Henifin in an interview with WLBT on Wednesday called the plan a “pure grab for money”.

Part of the DOJ order gives Henifin the ability to recommend how Jackson manages the water system moving forward. While not directly addressing the Senate proposal, Henifin said he’ll recommend that the DOJ extend its oversight of the water system to five years, giving his team enough time to spend the new federal funding.

He added that one option that he thinks “may have some merit” is creating a board-led nonprofit that could procure contracts more quickly than what is allowed for a municipal government.

Climbing out of debt

Henifin began Friday’s briefing discussing Jackson’s debt. With a poor credit rating and no cash on hand, the city would struggle to borrow any money for its water system as things stand today, he explained. Right now, the city is having to pay back $23 million a year towards its debt.

The goal, he said, is to get Jackson to a point where it can borrow money if it needs to. To do that, Henifin said he’s planning to spend $290 million of the $450 million provided by Congress for capital improvements to eliminate the city’s debt.

He said that doing so will still leave enough money to make the necessary infrastructure upgrades, especially when factoring in the city’s projected revenue that would come with his financial proposal.

“In five years, we’d be generating $20 million a year in capital improvement money that could go back into our system year after year after year,” Henifin said. “And the rates will be affordable across the population in Jackson. So I don’t think we can hit a bigger home run than that.”

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

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‘The honeymoon period is over’: JSU faculty senate votes no confidence in president, administration


‘The honeymoon period is over’: JSU faculty senate votes no confidence in president, administration

The Jackson University faculty senate voted “no-confidence” in President Hudson and his administration on Thursday.

A two-page resolution from the governing body elected by faculty to represent their concerns called out Hudson and four members of his administration for a “continuous pattern of failing to respect” shared governance and other professional norms of higher education at the historically Black university in Mississippi’s capital city.

Though his tenure has brought JSU athletic success and millions in research dollars, faculty say their concerns have gone ignored for months as Hudson has stopped meeting with them. With the no-confidence vote, years of behind-the-scenes issues – like mold, lax campus security, and worsening pay inequity as high-level administrators have received pay raises – are bubbling into the public eye.

“There are serious issues regarding effective leadership at Jackson State University,” stated the resolution, which also named Joseph Whitaker, the vice president of research and economic development; Michael Bolden, vice president of facilities and operations; Robin Pack, the executive director of human resources, and Brandi Newkirk-Turner, the associate provost.

One faculty senator, at a meeting in August, described the general sentiment toward the administration this way: “The honeymoon period is over, and now the pressure is on.”

At that same meeting, another senator concurred that faculty were starting to feel “like second class citizens.”

In a statement, Hudson said that he is looking forward to working with the faculty senate to address their concerns.

“I’m proud of what my administration has been able to accomplish to date,” Hudson said, “and I am committed to continuing the work to collaboratively execute the strategic plan to make Jackson State the best institution it can be.”

While no-confidence votes signal faculty dissatisfaction with their president, they have no binding effect. Such votes are relatively rare in Mississippi. The most recent was in 2019 after the Institutions of Higher Learning Board of Trustees appointed Glenn Boyce as chancellor at the University of Mississippi. While faculty at Alcorn State University had conce

Hudson was appointed acting president in the wake of a scandal at JSU after former president William Bynum was arrested in a prostitution sting. Hudson, a Jackson resident and JSU alum, had broad support on campus when the IHL board solidified his appointment at the end of 2020.

A few months before Hudson was confirmed by IHL, faculty, noticing that new hires were making more than tenured faculty, started asking his administration to conduct a pay equity study. Black women in particular were increasingly making below the median salary for faculty, according to a data analysis from an Oct. 21 faculty senate meeting.

More than two years later, JSU still hasn’t funded the study. Human resources issued two requests-for-proposals, but the only vendor that replied in 2021 was outside the budget, according to faculty senate meeting minutes. It is unclear how much the university committed to the study.

In April 2022, the provost told the faculty senate they had negotiated the original bid down to $40,000, but that was the last update the senate received on the pay study.

Hudson said in a statement that he is committed to funding the pay equity study and that his administration “has worked extensively with the Faculty and Staff Senate to make it a reality.” He told Mississippi Today that “the pay equity study, it just is what it is. We’re not sure what angle they’re going with the delay.” 

For the first year and a half of Hudson’s term, the primary vehicle for faculty to address their concerns with administration was a monthly meeting held by faculty senate leadership. The faculty senate executive committee would talk with Hudson about pressing issues and relay his comments to the senate at large.

But at a meeting with the cabinet on Aug. 23, 2022, Hudson informed the executive committee that it would be his last, according to faculty senate meeting minutes. While the provost would continue to attend, going forward, Hudson wanted “more holistic engagement” with faculty, like town halls. If faculty had concerns, the meeting minutes say that Hudson requested they email other members of the administration and copy him.

Hudson “indicated that he does not think that it’s the best use of his time to go down what is basically a list of concerns every meeting,” the meeting minutes say.

Don Spann, the faculty senate treasurer and a visiting assistant professor, said the executive committee asked Hudson “what do we need to make sure we utilize your time wisely?”

“One of the things he basically said was to make sure it aligns with his strategic plan,” Spann said, adding he felt like Hudson was basically saying, “if it’s not in line with my strategic plan, then I’m not really going to take the time out to listen to it.”

At a faculty senate meeting two days later, faculty expressed concern with Hudson’s request. One senator called town hall meetings “public relation meetings” and another noted that, without changes, faculty “will get frustrated.” One senator said she had a “concern that this format will create a lot of going back and forth and a writing campaign.”

On Sept. 16, the senate sent a letter to Hudson outlining its concerns about the meetings. He never responded, according to the senate. 

Emails from faculty senators to administration started to go ignored. They haven’t received an update on the pay equity study in months.

In particular, faculty have repeatedly asked the administration to address what they say is a persistent lack of public safety on campus. Faculty have noted at senate meetings they don’t see security on campus and that there have been car thefts and incidents of homeless people harassing students.

“The campus is too open to strangers,” the Sept. 2022 meeting minutes note.

Spann said that while Bolden has attended faculty senate meetings to talk about facilities and security, he is disappointed with the lack of progress on safety initiatives, like making sure campus cameras are working or hiring new officers.

The Senate shared the resolution with IHL and the commissioner, the staff senate and SGA, and the alumni association. The reported that IHL will investigate.

“We want to make the university better as a whole,” Spann said. “In order to do that, you have to have dialogue. But if you’re not at the table with the president, it’s not effective communication at all.”

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

Future of Mississippi ballot initiative in hands of Senate Chairman Polk


Future of Mississippi ballot initiative in hands of Senate Chairman Polk

House Constitution Chairman Fred Shanks said, based on conversations he has had with Senate leaders, that he anticipates the Senate passing a bill to revive Mississippi’s initiative process that allows voters to bypass the and place issues on the ballot.

Because he believes the Senate leaders will advance the initiative legislation, Shanks, R-Brandon, said he does not plan to take up a House proposal before Tuesday’s deadline. Last year, a bill died when House and Senate leaders couldn’t agree on details. Tuesday is the deadline to pass general bills and constitutional resolutions out of committee in the chamber where they originated.

It will take a constitutional resolution to amend the Constitution to revive the initiative process. Constitutional resolutions require a two-thirds vote of both chambers to pass the Legislature. Then the resolution must be approved by voters.

After discussions with Senate leaders, Shanks said he believes the Senate will pass a resolution out of committee before Tuesday. When that resolution passes the Senate, it will come to the House to be taken up.

“We’re optimistic we can get something done this year,” Shanks said.

While Shanks might be confident that a resolution to revive the initiative process will come out of Senate committee by Tuesday’s deadline, Senate Committee Chair John Polk, R-Hattiesburg, has not publicly made that commitment. Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann has referred the resolutions to revive the initiative process to the Accountability, Efficiency Transparency Committee chaired by Polk instead of the Constitution Committee chaired by Chris Johnson, R-Hattiesburg.

Polk has repeatedly said several proposals have been filed by senators to revive the initiative process and that he will make a decision on what to do with those resolutions before Tuesday’s deadline. He did say recently he anticipates his committee meeting twice on Tuesday.

The initiative process was struck down in 2021 at the same time the initiative that was approved by voters in November 2020 was ruled invalid by the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled the process unconstitutional because the signatures were required to be collected equally from five congressional districts that existed in 1990 even though the state lost a congressional seat after the 2000 census,

The action marked the first time in the modern era that the judiciary in any state had struck down an entire initiative process, according to Caroline Avakian, director of strategic communications for the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, a national, pro-initiative nonprofit.

While the only time in the modern era, the state Supreme Court landmark decision is not the only time a ballot initiative process has been ruled invalid by the judiciary. In the 1920s the Mississippi Supreme Court struck down a previous initiative process approved by state voters. After that 1920s ruling, it was not restored until the early 1990s.

In the 2022 session, the House and Senate could not agree on the number of signatures of registered voters that should be required to place an issue on the ballot. The House wanted the number of signatures to be the same as it was in the proposal that was struck down by the Supreme Court – 12% of the total from the last gubernatorial election or about 100,000 signatures. Polk and Hosemann wanted to more than double the signatures required.

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

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Isabelle Taft recognized by Families as Allies for her accountability reporting


Isabelle Taft recognized by Families as Allies for her accountability reporting

Mississippi Today reporter Isabelle Taft was honored by Families as Allies Monday for her in-depth reporting on Mississippi’s mental health system.

Isabelle Taft is a reporter and member of the Community Health Team at Mississippi Today, Friday, Jan. 28, 2022.

Families as Allies is a statewide nonprofit that advocates for children with behavioral health challenges and their families. Mississippi Today attended a ceremony for honorees who exemplified one of the organization’s core values: valuing every child and family, excellence, partnership and accountability. Taft was awarded the Tessie Schweitzer Award for Accountability for her reporting on mental health.

“We especially appreciate her commitment to clearly explaining developments and processes that can be confusing and conveying the real-world struggles of people with mental illness and their families,” Families as Allies said in a press release.

In the last year, Taft dove into complicated stories about Mississippi’s mental health system. She detailed how individuals and families with mental health issues were asking lawmakers to ensure they get input on how federal funds are spent. She closely covered the state’s ongoing mental health lawsuit. She shared difficult experiences of a Hattiesburg family who struggled with the state’s civil commitment process.

“Reporting on mental health in Mississippi can be challenging because it involves complicated systems that don’t always seem to work together, with high stakes and serious consequences for real people seeking help,” said Taft. “Families As Allies helps navigate those systems, and their staff have also helped me develop an understanding of the ’s mental health services and challenges. I’m grateful to them for this recognition and to everyone who has shared their time and insights with me as I reported on mental health over the last year.”

Other honorees included Dr. Michael Hogan, Imari McDonald, and Rep. Kevin Felcher.

“Mississippi is lucky to have Isabelle reporting on its mental health institutions,” said Kate Royals, Mississippi Today’s community health editor. “She is a fair and thorough reporter, and people here deserve to get contextual and truthful information about what’s going on in our state’s mental health system, which has been the subject of a federal for the past six years.”

Taft joined Mississippi Today last year as a member of the community health team covering , maternal and infant health, mental health and the operations of the state Division of .

This month, she and Mississippi Today were selected as a member of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network, and Taft will spend the next year in collaboration with the award-winning, nonprofit investigative newsroom on a special project.

Read Taft’s reporting here.

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

Advocates say licensed midwives could help Mississippi’s maternity care desert. Bills appear dead


Advocates say licensed midwives could help Mississippi’s maternity care desert. Bills appear dead

Advocates say pending legislation on midwifery could help alleviate Mississippi’s lack of maternity and protect mothers and babies from those practicing without proper training.

But Senate Bill 2793 and House Bill 1081 are likely going to die without a vote in committee this session, as legislative leaders say they need more time to study the issue.

More than half of Mississippi’s 82 counties are considered “maternity care deserts,” with no hospitals providing obstetric care and no OB-GYNs. Advocates say trained midwives could help this shortage of care for low-risk pregnancies, but say the should license and regulate them.

With the overturning of and a ban on abortions in Mississippi, advocates say trained midwives could help with the expected increase of thousands of deliveries a year for a health care system that is already woefully inadequate.

Mississippi is one of 14 states that does not regulate or license direct-entry midwives, those who practice without first becoming a nurse. Certified nurse midwives in the state are licensed as advanced practice registered nurses. There are only 26 certified nurse midwives in Mississippi, and only a few deliver babies, because only three hospitals allow them to.

Mississippi prevents free-standing, midwife-led clinics for low-risk births and prohibits certified nurse midwives from performing in-home births – both of which are popular in other states and in Europe. More mothers want personalized care at home or in a small clinic as opposed to giving birth in a larger hospital, and want natural birth instead of induced labor or non-necessary C-section surgeries for delivery that have become more and more common in hospitals.

But Mississippi’s lack of licensure or regulation also results in untrained or poorly trained people claiming to be midwives providing substandard – or dangerous – care to mothers and newborns at home.

“Anybody can say, ‘I’m a midwife,’ and nobody can stop them,” said Getty Israel, founder of Sisters in Birth, a nonprofit that pairs community health workers with low-income women, primarily beneficiaries, to provide support during and after their pregnancies. Israel hopes to open Mississippi’s first birth center. Such centers in other states serve women with low-risk pregnancies, and provide compromise between hospital births and home births.

READ MORE: Bills to watch in the 2023 Mississippi legislative session

Israel said she supports midwifery and wants to see it become a viable alternative in Mississippi, but believes they should be state regulated and licensed.

Erin Raftery is with Better Birth Mississippi, a group advocating for the midwifery legislation. The group says, “Community-based midwifery is a key solution to the challenges faced by the maternity care system in Mississippi.” Trained midwives could help with health care shortages caused by closure of rural hospitals and help save Medicaid money by “minimizing the use of costly, ineffective interventions.”

“The goal of these bills is accountability,” Raftery said. “… This would provide protection for patients, and for midwives. This would also hopefully open the door for insurance coverage for midwife services, and help with the maternity desert.”

Raftery said her group knows of at least one infant in Mississippi overseen by an unlicensed midwife, and that a similar instance a decade or so ago had also prompted proposed legislation. Raftery said licensure would help protect patients from the “select few” midwives practicing without training.

Senate Medicaid Chairman Kevin Blackwell, R-Southaven, authored the Senate midwife bill.

“I think we need to look at all our opportunities for health care in Mississippi,” Blackwell said. “We are last, and we won’t change. We need to look at all the other states that are changing the way they do things.”

Both Blackwell’s bill and a mirror one authored by Rep. Dana McLean, R-Columbus, would create a state board of licensed midwifery.

“There are community midwives already practicing in this state, and this would help legitimize them, provide some oversight, and I think our primary responsibility is to make sure those that are practicing are doing so with some standard of care and level of experience,” McLean said. “Safety for moms and babies is the first priority. But I think there’s also an issue of allowing for reimbursement for Medicaid and private insurance. They do require some sort of certification or licensure before they would reimburse for these services.

“Rural areas are closing maternity wards, and if this is an option that can help for low-risk births, then we need to explore that.”

But many physicians and hospital groups say child delivery should be overseen by trained physicians in hospital settings. Beyond these arguments, there has been a push by conservative groups and GOP lawmakers to reduce government agencies, boards and regulations, not create new licensing and a new regulatory board.

Nurse practitioners have also struggled for more autonomy and expanded scope of practice in Mississippi – with limited legislative success – saying they, too, could help with the state’s shortage of doctors and health services.

Israel said doctors and hospitals treat child birth as a “cash cow,” and that their lobbyists and influence at the Capitol prevent “progressive, evidence-based health care.”

The House and Senate bills are now in each chamber’s public health committee, facing a deadline for committee passage next week. That passage this year, or even a vote in committee, unlikely days before the deadline.

House Public Health Chairman Sam Mims, R-McComb, asked Wednesday about the midwifery bill pending in his committee, said he was unaware of it.

“I’ll go look at it,” Mims said. “I will read it. I will go look at it. Thank you, though.”

Raftery said her group had met with Mims and his committee vice chair only a couple of weeks ago and outlined the bill. She said Mims told her he would be opposed because he’s against new government boards and licensing.

Senate Public Health Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said he doubts he will bring the bill up for a vote in his committee this year.

“It’s sort of late in the session, and I really wasn’t aware of this legislation before we got here,” said Senate Public Health Chairman Hob Bryan, D-Amory. “I don’t think the committee would have time to fully study this … I’ve met with two different midwife groups, and I try to listen to people. I learned that at least one group will assign someone to an individual, and they will stay with that person, work with them, throughout their pregnancy and after delivery, and be there for them to discuss other health care issues. I think that is a very good idea, that could perhaps carry over into other health care services, and I am interested in learning more.

“I am neither opposed to nor supportive (of the midwifery legislation), but I have an open mind,” Bryan said.

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

Did you miss our previous article…

Jackson is issuing a new boil water notice every other day


Jackson is issuing a new boil water notice every other day

While a massive federal cash infusion is on the horizon for Jackson’s troubled water system, the city’s notorious boil water notices are piling up.

Since Gov. Tate Reeves proudly declared the end of a citywide advisory on Sept. 15 following the ’s takeover of the drinking water system, Jackson — now under the supervision of a federally appointed third-party administrator — has issued 70 new boil water notices, or more than one every other day, including 16 this month alone.

The city hasn’t gone a day without an active boil water notice for over a month, since Dec. 21.

In the U.S. Department of Justice’s complaint against Jackson in November over drinking water violations, the agency listed over 320 boil water notices that had been issued between May 2020 and last October. Mississippi Today mapped out those notices, as well as those issued since then — totaling 381 — below:

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The zip codes that received the most boil water notices in that two and a half-year stretch were 39211 (northeast Jackson) and 39209 (west Jackson) with 56 each.

In terms of Census tracts — a narrower geographic — the parts of the city with the most notices were Belhaven (between Woodrow Wilson Avenue and Fortification Street, east of State Street) with 29, and central Jackson (between Woodrow Wilson Avenue and Meadowbrook Road, including Fondren) with 22.

The average length of the notices was about four days, with the longest notice lasting 49 days; that advisory came in January 2021 for 25 connections on Forest Hill Road in south Jackson and continued during the winter freeze that led to a citywide notice.

On average, the length of boil water notices are longer in south Jackson, the section of the city farthest from the city’s main treatment plant in Ridgeland, than the rest of the city, as mapped below:

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City officials attribute most of these notices to aging and fragile water lines. Ted Henifin, the city’s third-party manager of the water system, said last month he expects a project using $20 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to upgrade 10 miles of water lines in the city to start this summer. With about 100 miles of smaller-than-ideal water lines in Jackson, Henifin estimated it may take five to 10 years to make the necessary replacements.

Currently, the city has three active boil water notices for different parts of the city — Oak Brook Drive, Lakeland Lane and parts of Byram (click here for full details) — affecting 190 connections, as well as a conservation notice that went into effect last summer.

For information on what to do during and after a boil water notice, visit the state Department of Health’s guidelines here.

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

Did you miss our previous article…

Mississippi’s already troubling maternal mortality rate is worsening


Mississippi’s already troubling maternal mortality rate is worsening

A new report released Thursday by the Mississippi Department of Health shows that the state’s maternal mortality rate — already one of the highest in America — is worsening.

The report, conducted by 28 professionals and advocates who make up the Mississippi Mortality Review Committee, weighed the state’s maternal mortality data from 2017-2019. The most recent state report was released three years ago and weighed data from 2013-2016.

Three years ago, Mississippi’s pregnancy-related mortality ratio was 33.2 deaths per 100,000 live births — the sixth-worst rate in America. But this week’s new report showed the state’s pregnancy-related mortality ratio had increased to 36.0 deaths per 100,000 live births.

And while mortality rates for white mothers are improving slightly in Mississippi to three years ago, they are drastically worsening for Black mothers.

Three years ago, the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black women was 51.9 deaths per 100,000 live births, nearly three times the white ratio of 18.9 deaths. This week’s report, however, showed the pregnancy?related mortality ratio for Black women was 65.1 deaths per 100,000 live births, nearly four times the white ratio of 16.2 deaths.

“Regardless of race, maternal loss is a tragedy for everyone, for all of us,” said LeJeuene Johnson, a clinician and advocate who has extensive background in studying maternal mortality in Mississippi and across the nation. “We need to highlight this reality while being sensitive to the fact that this problem has disproportionately affected Black women. It begs tough questions about discrimination, bias, how we evaluate social determinants of health and how that plays a role in our health outcomes.”

Pregnancy-related mortality ratio by race/ethnicity compared to previous Mississippi and national ratios. (Courtesy: Maternal Mortality Review Committee report)

The new report was released this week as lawmakers face increasing pressure to extend health care coverage for moms on from two months to one year, as 28 other states have done and several others are considering. The committee in its new report this week is the latest to recommend that state leaders extend postpartum Medicaid coverage from two months to one year.

READ MORE: Pressure grows for lawmakers to pass postpartum Medicaid extension

The release of the new report does not appear to be timed to influence debate at the Capitol, but it is expected to reach the desks of every lawmaker in the coming days.

“The numbers are important, obviously,” Johnson said. “But behind these numbers are people and their unique stories of loss and tragedy. These are mothers. These are sisters and aunts. I’ve spent a long time talking with surviving family members who are experiencing this profound loss. Maternal mortality impacts family structure, a family’s economic ability to survive. And the psychological wellbeing of surviving family members can often be compromised. We have to keep that in mind.”

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

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