University of Mississippi Medical Center

Sumrall man drops Blue Cross, fundraises to afford liver transplant


Sumrall man drops Blue Cross, fundraises to afford liver transplant

Bill Meredith of Sumrall was hospitalized 10 times in 2021.  

In September of last year, he passed out in the shower. The next thing he knew, he woke up in a hospital bed with no clothes.

The cause of most of those visits – and loss of consciousness – was hepatic encephalopathy. Hepatic encephalopathy is a nervous system disorder brought on by severe liver disease. Meredith’s liver doesn’t properly filter toxins, and as a result, they build up in his blood and travel to his brain. 

His hospitalization in December was the final straw for Meredith. He took a medical leave from his job, which he felt he could no longer adequately perform. 

A doctor he was seeing in Hattiesburg referred him to the in Jackson, where he began seeing a team of specialists that helped him get the medicine he needed to decrease his frequent hospitalizations. He was put on the transplant list for a new liver on March 16.

But just two weeks later, on April 1, UMMC, which houses the state’s only organ transplant center, went out of network with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi, Meredith’s insurance company and the state’s largest private insurer. 

Meredith was paying close to $800 a month to keep his Blue Cross health insurance while on medical leave under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, commonly known as COBRA. 

When UMMC went out of network, Meredith and other transplant candidates who have Blue Cross were marked as “inactive.” The status change means the candidate stays on the list, but if his or her organ match becomes available in the time frame the hospital is out of network, the candidate won’t be getting a call.

UMMC and Blue Cross are at odds over reimbursement rates and Blue Cross’ quality care plan, which measures hospital performance and whether services provided to patients are adequate. UMMC officials say they are underpaid by Blue Cross to other academic medical centers in the region, while Blue Cross leaders say UMMC’s request is unreasonable and would necessitate an increase in member premiums. 

The stalemate between the two has left tens of thousands of Mississippians in the lurch — particularly those who receive care at UMMC that they cannot get elsewhere in Mississippi.

Emails between officials with the Mississippi Insurance Department, UMMC and Blue Cross show failed attempts on the part of Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney to get UMMC and Blue Cross to agree on a “single case agreement” on at least one occasion.

“As Insurance Commissioner, I have an additional request to make on Mr. (redacted) behalf. Please work to enter a single case agreement that will shield Mr. (redacted) from any excess charges above and beyond his standard cost-sharing responsibilities,” Chaney wrote to UMMC and Blue Cross attorneys on May 13.  “This single case approach will allow Mr. (redacted) to receive the life-saving (redacted) he so desperately needs without depleting his life savings and without him having to travel long distances to have the procedure done in a location where he has no family or other support group who could assist him in the recovery and healing process.”

Chaney said he is not aware of any single case agreements ever being signed by either UMMC or Blue Cross, and he has not been in communication with either party about the progress of mediation since August. 

UMMC declined to comment for this story. Blue Cross did not respond to Mississippi Today’s questions by publication time.

Meredith spent the first months of summer getting his long term disability insurance in place, hoping the dispute between UMMC and Blue Cross would be resolved. After the 90-day grace period that allowed certain people to continue paying in-network rates for care at UMMC expired, he began having to pay out of pocket for his appointments with UMMC doctors. 

He asked one of his doctors if it would be safe to wait until his next appointment in three months to see if the two parties reach an agreement, and she said yes. 

“Then as that began to draw to a close, I’m not hearing anything about where this negotiation is going,” he said, referring to the mediation the two parties began in June. “I finally gave up on that.”

In July, he decided to switch insurance companies so he could keep his care at UMMC, which has a nationally recognized liver transplant program.  

The process has been a stressful one, he said, and that’s had an impact on his health. 

“My numbers are back up. When I quit work, my MELD score dropped to 10 from a 16,” said Meredith, referring to his Model for End-Stage Liver Disease score, which is used as an indicator for how urgently someone needs a liver transplant. “Now it’s like 13 or 14, so it’s creeping back up.” 

As of Sept. 1, Meredith is inured by Ambetter, which offers plans on the federal Marketplace and is accepted by UMMC. Like Frank Dungan, another former Blue Cross member and liver transplant candidate at UMMC, he is starting completely over with his deductible. 

He will have to pay $6,000 out of pocket before his insurance kicks in this year, on top of the about $450 a month he pays in premium. In January, he will have to do it again.

Following his transplant, he will also have to pay for round-the-clock in-home care for anywhere from three weeks to three months.  

As a result, he’s launched a GoFundMe to help him financially – a measure he is not comfortable having to take but feels he must. 

So far, Meredith has raised nearly $8,000 of his $50,000 goal.

“I’ve never begged for money in my life,” said Meredith, a professional geologist. “… I’m not happy about having worked all my career, paid all my taxes, paid all my insurance premiums for years and years and years, and now they all evaporate or hold their hand out.”

Editor’s note: Kate Royals, Mississippi Today’s community health editor since January 2022, worked as a writer/editor for UMMC’s Office of Communications from November 2018 through August 2020, writing press releases and features about the medical center’s schools of dentistry and nursing. A longtime journalist in major Mississippi newsrooms, Royals had served as a Mississippi Today reporter for two years before her stint at UMMC. At UMMC, Royals was in no way involved in management decisions or anything related to the medical center’s relationship or contract with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi.

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

UMMC says it will fill burn care void


UMMC says it will fill burn care void

The announced Thursday it will increase its capabilities for treatment of burn victims following the closure of the JMS Burn and Reconstruction Center at Merit Health Central in Jackson.

Merit Health Central announced in September that the JMS Burn and Reconstruction Center, the state’s only accredited burn program, would close on Oct. 14 due to staffing and financial challenges. Staff at the burn center told Mississippi Today that hospital administrators didn’t inform them of the decision until just over a month before the closure date, which left them scrambling to determine next steps and find care for the center’s current patients.

“It’s essential that burn patients in the area receive care in a timely manner, so we are stepping in to fill this need,” said Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs, in a press release.

Burn patients who require a higher level of care will either be accepted and cared for at UMMC or transferred to a regional burn center for treatment, the release stated. The care will be coordinated by Mississippi MED-COM, the emergency communications center for UMMC and hospitals and emergency providers throughout the state.

Although the University of Mississippi Medical Center has been out of network with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi since April 1, Blue Cross members are still able to receive emergency care at the in-network rate.

UMMC is Mississippi’s only Level 1 trauma center and academic medical center.

UMMC officials did not answer specific questions about whether caring for these patients will require hiring additional staff and physicians, purchasing additional equipment or what the timeline is.

They also did not answer whether the hospital would be using resources from the state’s Trauma Care . The Fund is used to cover administrative expenses of the statewide Trauma Care System and to fund trauma centers, ambulance districts and burn centers.

“There’s no additional information to provide at this time,” said Patrice Guilfoyle, director of communications for UMMC. “I’m sure there will be updates as it progresses.”

Editor’s note: Kate Royals, Mississippi Today’s community health editor since January 2022, worked as a writer/editor for UMMC’s Office of Communications from November 2018 through August 2020, writing press releases and features about the medical center’s schools of dentistry and nursing. A longtime journalist in major Mississippi newsrooms, Royals had served as a Mississippi Today reporter for two years before her stint at UMMC. At UMMC, Royals was in no way involved in management decisions or anything related to the medical center’s relationship or contract with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Mississippi.

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

With burn center closing, UMMC says it will pick up some of the slack

65 views – Mississippi Clarion Ledger – 2022-09-29 11:27:10

Merit Health Central in Jackson is set to stop care for burn patients on Oct. 14.

With Mississippi’s only burn center at Merit Health Central in South Jackson scheduled to close on Oct. 14, another hospital has promised to ramp up its burn care.

According to the University of Mississippi Medical Center on Thursday, it is establishing the resources for the state’s only academic medical center to fill the void caused by the closure of the burn center at Merit Health. 

“We are enhancing our burn care capabilities to respond to this lack of service in the state,” said Dr. Alan Jones, associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs. “We constantly evaluate ways we…

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Blue Cross, UMMC: No developments in dispute


Nearly four months in, still no developments in mediation between UMMC and Blue Cross

by Will Stribling,
September 20, 2022

The contract dispute between the state’s largest insurer and hospital is still not resolved more than three months after the two parties began mediation proceedings.

and have been locked in a dispute over reimbursement rates throughout 2022. The Medical Center went out of network with Blue Cross on March 31, and since then, thousands of Mississippians have been forced to take on higher out-of-pocket costs for their or leave the state for certain specialty care.

The two parties agreed to utilize a mediation process to settle the dispute in April after Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney urged them to do so. 

“The commissioner (Mike Chaney) is certainly very hopeful that the parties can make great progress, if not find a resolution, by early June,” Mark Haire, deputy commissioner of insurance, told Mississippi Today in early May.

Evidently, that hope was misplaced.

Patrice Guilfoyle, director of communications at UMMC, told Mississippi Today on Tuesday that there’s “no update at this point” on mediation proceedings. Blue Cross did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication. 

Chaney told Mississippi Today he has not had any contact with either party or the mediator relating to mediation since before Sept. 5. Under state agency rules, Chaney is not allowed to directly mediate or help settle disputes over contacts between insurance companies and health care providers. 

There is no requirement the two parties come to an agreement.

A targeted market conduct examination of Blue Cross that Chaney ordered on July 1 is ongoing. The examination is to determine whether the insurer is in compliance with the state’s network adequacy regulations since UMMC provides specialty care that cannot be found elsewhere in Mississippi.

Chaney told Mississippi Today on Tuesday that the network adequacy review is nearly complete but cannot be finished until UMMC provides his office with materials that have been subpoenaed.

“It (the network adequacy review) will probably be surprising to a lot of folks,” Chaney said.

Blue Cross sued top UMMC employees on July 28 over the public relations campaign the hospital has been waging against the insurer due to their contract dispute. The insurer claims the campaign was “designed to disseminate false and defamatory statements about Blue Cross to the public.”

In advertisements and public statements made by employees, the claim was made that the insurer “excluded” UMMC from its network of providers, though it was UMMC who voluntarily allowed its contract with Blue Cross to expire. 

It is unclear how that has impacted the progress of mediation proceedings. 

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

UMMC seeks to lease struggling Delta hospital


UMMC seeks to lease struggling Delta hospital

by Will Stribling,
September 16, 2022

Sharkey Issaquena Community Hospital may begin negotiations with the over a potential lease of the rural, 29-bed hospital and all of its operations, including its nursing home, clinics, emergency department and ambulance services for the two counties.

After seeking out potential buyers earlier this year, the community hospital received lease proposals from UMMC and Delta Health System. The committee that evaluated the proposals, which included representatives from both counties and the community hospital, chose the Medical Center over Delta Health System, which has its own financial problems and recently closed the only neonatal intensive care unit in the Mississippi Delta.

“Due to the economics of the hospital, particularly during COVID, they sought a partner that would strengthen their ability to serve the community,” said Charles Weissinger, attorney for the Issaquena County Board of Supervisors and one of the Issaquena County representatives on the committee that evaluated the lease proposals. “They went through a request for proposal process and the University of Mississippi Medical Center provided the best hope for results going forward.”

UMMC declined to comment for the story.

Details of the proposal submitted by the Medical Center are not publicly available due a provision in state law that exempts “records directly relating to prospective strategic business decisions of a public hospital.”

UMMC is also working to finalize a lease of Greenwood Leflore Hospital

Sharkey Issaquena Community Hospital, like many rural hospitals across the country, has struggled to stay afloat for years due to low patient volumes. The two counties have a collective population of fewer than 6,000 people.

To cut costs, the community hospital, which has 125 full-time employees, has been pooling its resources with small hospitals across the state over the last few months to buy supplies at a discounted wholesale rate. Though the arrangement is beneficial for all the involved hospitals, it’s not enough for Sharkey Issaquena Community Hospital to remain viable in its current state, Weissinger said.

The community hospital is jointly owned by Sharkey County, which owns two-thirds of the hospital, and Issaquena County, which owns the remaining one-third. The board of supervisors of both counties have greenlit entering into negotiations with the Medical Center to finalize a deal, but the hospital’s board of trustees must also sign off on the plan for negotiations to begin. Their next meeting will be Sept. 29. 

UMMC’s efforts to expand have played out amidst its public and contentious fallout with , the state’s largest private insurer. 

Sharkey Issaquena Community Hospital, like UMMC, has its own history of legal battles with Blue Cross. In 2017, the insurer sued the community hospital over an alleged lab testing scheme that cost the insurer nearly $10 million.

Under the alleged scheme, two Texas-based lab testing companies ordered lab tests for Blue Cross customers in other states and were allowed to submit reimbursement claims to the insurer for the tests by using the hospital’s name and billing information, though the tests were not performed by the hospital’s own laboratory.

The community hospital allegedly received kickbacks from the two Texas companies as part of the deal, which Blue Cross claimed was used to take advantage of the favorable reimbursement rate the hospital received from the insurer for lab tests due to it being small and rural..

Ultimately, nearly $34 million in misrepresented claims were submitted to Blue Cross, according to court filings, though the insurer only paid for $9.8 million of them before discovering the arrangement.

The two parties reached a settlement in 2018.

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


Doctors, advocates worry rape victims won’t have abortion access


Can rape victims access abortion in Mississippi? Doctors, advocates say no.

Mississippi law theoretically allows rape victims access to abortion, an exemption state leaders tout. But the doctors and advocates who work with victims say in reality, that access is almost nonexistent.

Since the overruled Roe v. Wade, allowing Mississippi’s 2007 trigger ban to take effect in July, abortion has been legal in the state in only two cases: when necessary to save the life of the mother and when a pregnancy resulted from a rape that has been reported to law enforcement. 

“It does in fact have an exception for rape and it has an exception for life of the mother,” Gov. Tate Reeves said in a television appearance earlier this year. “I think that there’s no doubt that there are instances, there are individuals that certainly push for exceptions, and that’s okay.”

But doctors told Mississippi Today that they’re not aware of anyone in the state who will provide the procedure for rape victims because of concerns about potential legal consequences and logistical hurdles. 

Mississippi Today surveyed more than 20 hospitals and hospital chains in the state about whether they would provide legal abortions to people who have reported a rape to law enforcement. Some of the state’s biggest hospitals – including the and North Mississippi Health Services – refused to comment at all. 

Of those that responded, none said that its doctors would provide abortions for people who had reported a rape to law enforcement.

“I don’t think people in Mississippi can have comfort around, ‘Oh, if I’m raped, I will have access,’” one Jackson-area OB/GYN told Mississippi Today, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the physician did not have permission from their employer to talk to the media. “You probably won’t. You’ll have to find someone to do it that includes a hospital with the whole team there supporting that, and that’s much more difficult.”

A medical professional could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of providing an illegal abortion. Because for years all of the state’s elective abortions – which includes all procedures that are not medically necessary – took place at Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic, many OB/GYNs around the state lack the training to perform the procedure. 

That means victims of sexual violence will likely be forced to travel hours away from home to end a pregnancy that resulted from rape. 

Reeves’ office did not respond to a request for comment for the story. 

Before Mississippi’s trigger ban took effect, the state’s sole abortion clinic, the , provided abortions for rape victims. The clinic is now closed.

Diane Derzis, the clinic’s owner, said most of the time clinic staff did not know when they were serving a patient who had been raped. But a few times a year, law enforcement came to the clinic to pick up fetal remains, which could be used to gather DNA evidence to identify an assailant.

Derzis said she doesn’t believe anyone in Mississippi will provide abortions for people who have reported a rape.

“They’re screwed,” she said of rape victims. “Plain and simple. No one is going to take the responsibility or the liability … People are scared to , not just there but all over the country about what they can and can’t do. And they’re just not going to be willing to put themselves or their licenses on the line.”

Even before Dobbs, Mississippi doctors were wary of providing abortions. The Pink House exclusively employed out-of-state OB/GYNs who flew in monthly for a few days at a time. 

Anti-abortion activists protested at the homes of Mississippi-based abortion providers. 

“We go to the neighborhoods and tell everybody in the neighborhood what they do,” long-time anti-abortion activist David Lane told Mississippi Today in June. “They don’t like that. But if it’ll get rid of them, and it’s legal, we’ll do it.”

It’s unlikely that any Mississippi doctors who do provide legal abortions will talk publicly about it – both for fear of legal action and to avoid attracting anti-abortion activists. 

Rob McDuff, an attorney at the , which represented the clinic before it closed this summer, said he does not expect to see prosecutions of medical providers for performing abortions under the law’s exceptions. 

“I fully expect that state officials will allow professionals to use their best judgment in the difficult situations they will encounter, and I don’t think those doctors and nurses will be prosecuted,” he said. “If any are, we stand ready to defend them without charge, just as we will defend any others who are arrested for abortion-related crimes.”

Mississippi is one of a handful of states that bans abortion but has an exception for rape. There is no exception for incest. 

Michele Goodwin, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine and an expert in reproductive rights, said that exceptions for rape and incest can serve a political purpose without actually ensuring victims have access to abortion.

“Lawmakers get to satisfy part of their base that is skeptical about their anti-abortion lawmaking, or they get to say, ‘We put into the law these exceptions,’ hoping that people won’t pay close attention,” Goodwin said. “But if you unpack what that looks like, those burdens are inordinate.”

Now that the Pink House is closed, Mississippians’ nearest options for a legal abortion are in Florida, where it is permitted up to 15 weeks of pregnancy, or southern Illinois, where the town of Carbondale has become an access point for people living in ban states across the South and Midwest. 

When lawmakers added an exception for rape to Mississippi’s pre-Roe abortion ban in 1966, they considered requiring a local judge to first certify that a rape had taken place. But they rejected that idea on the grounds that it embarrasses victims.

The exception now requires victims to file “a formal charge of rape … with an appropriate law enforcement official.”

Forensic nurses told Mississippi Today that they’re also concerned about leaving their patients’ ability to access a medical procedure in the hands of law enforcement.

Nationally, only about a third of sexual assaults are reported to . And only about a sixth of those reports result in arrests. 

In the vast majority of rape cases, the victim knew the assailant, so filing a police report could have life-altering consequences. 

Fear of retaliation, the belief that police won’t help them, and considering the assault a personal matter are among the reasons people choose not to report, according to Department of Justice statistics.

Chance Lovern, a nurse at the Ochsner Rush emergency room in Meridian, said his experience aligns with the national data: Most of the patients he has worked with knew their attacker. 

The sexual assault exams he performs are careful and detail oriented. Patients stand on a sheet to change so any physical evidence can be collected. Nurses document physical injuries like bruises and fractures, and perform vaginal and anal swabs for DNA. At every stage, a patient can ask to stop or skip part of the exam. 

He asks victims if they have contacted the police, but he never urges them to do so.  

“It’s a traumatizing event already,” he said. “It’s going to be their decision in the long run if they want to.”

Alizbeth Eaves, one of the state’s few certified sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) and the trauma and SANE program manager at Ochsner Rush in Meridian, said the language of the rape exception is also unclear. What constitutes “a formal charge?” Is it simply filing a police report, or does someone have to be charged with the ?

She recently saw a 16-year-old who had been raped by her uncle starting when she was 14 years old. The teenager’s father caught his brother in the act and called the police. But when they arrived, they initially refused to arrest the uncle.

“The investigator says, ‘She’s 16, it’s consensual, there’s nothing we can do,’” Eaves said. 

Eventually, the uncle was arrested on two counts of statutory rape, stemming from previous incidents. But it was easy to imagine the case taking a different turn.

“If she had gotten pregnant from that sexual assault that day, and law enforcement refused to press charges because, quote, ‘She was 16 and [it was] consensual,’ she would have been forced to carry that pregnancy, because a formal rape charge would not have been filed because law enforcement wasn’t going to do that,” Eaves said. 

A Mississippi forensic nurse who spoke on the condition of anonymity also said she routinely sees police demonstrate skepticism and even hostility toward victims. She has heard officers ask victims whether they actually wanted to have sex with their assailants and suggest that they should not have been alone with them. 

After the Supreme Court overturned and Mississippi’s trigger ban took effect, Stephanie Piper, sexual assault program manager at the nonprofit Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence, helped a woman who had become pregnant after unwanted sex get an appointment for an abortion in Florida. Instead of a six-hour round trip drive to Jackson, she had a 10-hour round trip to Tallahassee. 

Stephanie Piper is the sexual assault program manager at the nonprofit Gulf Coast Center for Nonviolence, serving victims of sexual violence on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

In that case, the woman knew the man who impregnated her and had previously had consensual sex with him. She had no interest in filing a police report. 

“She was scared if she didn’t have sex with him something worse was going to happen,” Piper said. “In my eyes that’s a sexual assault. If she came forward to law enforcement and said everything I just said, they’re probably not going to go forward with the case.”

Lovern, a native of Philadelphia, Miss., grew up in the Pentecostal church, surrounded by opposition to abortion. His work as a nurse has changed his perspective, introducing him to situations where abortion was medically necessary. And he can see how carrying a pregnancy to term could change a sexual assault victim’s life forever. 

“I’m not saying that they wouldn’t love their child any differently, but it’s always going to bring back a physical presence of that assault,” he said. 

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

Greenwood Leflore Hospital announces more layoffs, clinic closures


Greenwood Leflore Hospital announces clinic closures, layoffs after UMMC submits bid to lease hospital

Greenwood Leflore Hospital announced on Thursday that it is closing some of its operations and laying off more employees due to its perilous financial situation. 

Several of the hospital’s units, including intensive care and labor and delivery, will remain closed after a sewage problem forced the hospital to shut down in mid-August.

Three of its clinics are also closing, according to a hospital-wide memo sent by Interim Chief Executive Officer Gary Marchand.

He estimated that 20 full-time and 20 part-time staff members will be laid off as a result. The hospital already laid off 30 employees in May to offset losses incurred during the pandemic.  

The hospital, which is jointly owned by Leflore County and the city of Greenwood, cited financial losses from the temporary shutdown last month and severe staffing shortages as the reason for the reduction in services. It is one of the largest employers in the area.  

The 208-bed hospital suspended inpatient services on Aug. 16 after clogged manholes forced sewage into the crawl space below the hospital, causing patients to be transferred to other facilities and clinics to be shut down for three days days. Hospital officials estimate this shutdown cost them $1.2 million in revenue.

After 12 of the hospital’s medical and surgical beds were reopened on Aug. 24, hospital officials said they were still conducting a financial analysis to determine if certain services remained viable. Thursday’s announcement shows they determined that many were not.

“… It became apparent that the revenue losses we incurred during the shut-down significantly impacted GLH’s plans to operate its services until a lease could be finalized … The estimated loss of revenue related to this event requires that we revise our previous plans,” Marchand said in the memo.

The hospital’s main goal, Marchand said, is to stay operational through the end of the year. 

Marchand also announced that the hospital received a joint-operation proposal from the that could serve as a windfall for the hospital. 

UMMC declined to comment for this story. 

In an attempt to stay afloat, Greenwood Leflore officials are trying to renegotiate the prices they pay vendors for various supplies and services until the lease agreement with UMMC is finalized. 

Marchand claimed that the ICU remaining closed is due to a lack of staff, saying the unit has less than half of the personnel it would need to operate safely. Current ICU employees will be allowed to fill vacant positions in other departments.

Marchand also cited a staffing shortage as the reason for the labor and delivery unit  closure, saying the unit only has 15% of the staff it needs. However, a pregnant person who arrives at the hospital in active delivery will be stabilized in the hospital’s emergency department before being transferred to another hospital. 

The primary driver of the hospital’s staffing shortage is the discontinuation of  premium payments for part-time nurses. These nurses were not brought in through a staffing agency, as most contract nurses are, but instead signed in-house agreements that netted them $50-55 per hour, a much higher rate than the $24-$35 per hour rate paid to registered nurses employed full-time. 

The hospital’s After Hours clinic will be closing and its providers will be consolidated into the emergency room’s Fast Track services, which Marchand said serves a similar function. Magnolia Medical and Ryan White, two of the hospital’s clinics that specialize in HIV treatment, are also closing due to low patient volumes.

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

Operating amid crisis is expensive


Jackson hospital on city water says continuing to operate comes at ‘significant financial cost’

Most hospitals in Jackson are on their own water systems and mostly unaffected by the city’s water crisis — except for one.

The 319-bed facility Merit Health Central in south Jackson is currently operating with water tankers as a result of the crisis.

“I will say, we have been in this predicament quite frequently, so we do have processes, policies and methodologies in place that keeps us able to do what we need to do,” said Jana Fuss, director of marketing at the hospital.

Fuss said although the hospital has been able to continue services uninterrupted through the current water crisis, it comes at a “significant financial cost, and additional resources are required to keep the onsite water tanks full.”

The hospital has been using water from tankers since July 28, when a state-issued boil water notice went into effect.

She continued: “It is the hospital’s desire that the city will take quick action to identify the necessary solutions that will permanently resolve the water supply issues for our community.”

Hospital officials said the fire suppression system is “fine.”

The announced Monday its ability to fight fires is compromised because of the low water pressure.

Both St. Dominic Hospital and Mississippi Baptist Medical Center operate on their own systems, and patient care in the hospitals has not been affected, hospital representatives told Mississippi Today.

St. Dominic’s emergency response team was concerned about the impact of the water emergency to outpatient dialysis patients, but so far, the hospital has not seen an increase in people needing that care, according to Meredith Bailess, senior director of marketing and communications for the hospital.

Its fire suppression system remains in operation, she said.

Several other St. Dominic locations, such as its buildings on North Frontage Road off of I-55 and some clinic locations, are supplied by Jackson water.

Bailess said they are closely monitoring water pressure in these buildings and have thus far been able to continue operations.

Officials with Baptist say their clinics have been operating on the boil water notice for more than 30 days with “minimal impact” to patient care.

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

Portable showers, prepackaged food: How Jackson colleges are responding to the water crisis


Portable showers, prepackaged food: How Jackson colleges are responding to the water crisis

Many college students are using portable showers and toilets as Jackson’s water emergency causes little to no water pressure on campuses throughout the city, forcing schools to move classes online and go without air conditioning. 

Administrations at three colleges and universities based in Jackson – Belhaven University, Millsaps College, and Jackson State University – are not sure how long these contingency measures, like limiting dining hall hours and distributing bottled water, will last. 

“The situation is fluid, no pun intended,” Michael Bolden, the director of campus operations at Jackson State University, said at a town hall on Tuesday. “Things are moving up and down depending on how the system is responding to what’s happening at the primary locations.” 

Tougaloo College is not affected by the city’s water emergency, a spokesperson confirmed to Mississippi Today, because it has its own well system.

At Belhaven University, located a few blocks from the J.H. Fewell Water Plant, classes did not meet Tuesday. The administration has been closely monitoring the situation in meetings all day and hopes to have a better idea of how to proceed by the end of the week, David Sprayberry, Belhaven’s director of public relations, told Mississippi Today. 

Currently, some buildings lack water or have low pressure on upper floors. The university has limited food service to residential students and is distributing bottled water for drinking and nonpotable water to flush the toilets. 

“Because of the uncertainty, we are taking the following actions for TOMORROW ONLY,” Belhaven University President Roger Parrott wrote in a letter to campus.

Parrott wrote that he hopes to have more information for students by Tuesday night but that because Belhaven University is located “downhill,” he expects the campus to be among the first areas of the city to have water pressure restored. 

“Thankfully, our campus location is ‘downhill,’ and we keep water running longer than other parts of town,” Parrott wrote. “We will likely be one of the first portions of town to have water pressure restored when the plant is fixed.” 

Colleges and universities are effectively small municipalities, providing thousands of students in Jackson with round-the-clock housing, food, security, and utilities. The disruption in water service doesn’t just affect students’ learning, but all aspects of living on campus, from showering in the dormitories to buying hot meals on campus. 

“We are nearing the 24-hour mark of this happening,” Fran’Cee Brown-McClure, JSU’s vice president for student affairs, said at the town hall. “I know it definitely feels like it’s been happening forever, but we are still in the early stages.” 

UMMC placed its campus on fire watch, but it’s unclear if the other Jackson colleges are doing the same as of Tuesday afternoon.

“I don’t know the answer to that,” said Annie Mitchell, the vice president for marketing and communications at Millsaps College. “We rely on the city for that.” 

At Millsaps, a small liberal arts college on a hill in central Jackson, the emergency management team is meeting twice a day as the second week of classes begin, Mitchell said. 

On Tuesday morning, the water pressure returned to above 30 PSI, enabling students to flush toilets. 

“Millsaps is one of the highest points in the city, and our residence halls on the second and third floors, just with gravity, it’s harder for those students to flush the toilets,” Mitchell said. 

Portable showers and toilets had been brought in on Monday night, but Mitchell said she didn’t know yet how much that cost the college. The university’s air conditioning has not been affected, and Mitchell said that while there was a wifi outage on campus, it was not due to the city’s water emergency. 

“Our provider, they had a global outage, it was just really unfortunate timing,” she said. 

Millsaps also requested portable hygiene stations from Aramark, its food provider, so dining services could continue, albeit with prepackaged food and on limited hours. 

As for classes, Millsaps went virtual on Monday around 11:30 a.m. after the decline in water pressure was noticed, Mitchell said. Students and faculty have the day off today in case they need to travel home, and classes (with the exception of labs) are going to be virtual for the rest of the week. 

“We just wanted to make sure that we were giving our students as much choice as possible in terms of where they were going to be, because we weren’t quite sure how the water was going to, at that time, impact services on campus such as laundry, flushing toilets, taking showers that kind of thing,” she said. 

Jackson State University held an hour-long town hall on Zoom on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the impact of the water emergency on the campus. Four top administrators at the university just west of downtown answered questions for students, including Brown-McClure, Bolden, President Thomas Hudson, and Alisa Mosley, the provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Almost three weeks ago, low water pressure had caused the university to delay move-in for the dormitories; JSU is now moving classes online for the rest of the week with plans to resume in-person by Tuesday next week. 

IHL’s risk management office has reached out to JSU and “stands ready to assist with any needs identified by the university,” Blanton wrote in an email. 

Many dorms don’t have water on the upper floors; the JSU delivered water bottles to students last night and this morning. There is no laundry service in order to ensure water is going to students’ basic needs, and the library is closed. The university is working to bring in water for food prep in the dining hall, and to set up portable showers for students by tomorrow. 

Some parts of campus had issues with air conditioning, but Bolden said that students should start noticing cooler temperatures inside this afternoon. 

Students had multiple questions about whether it is safe to live in the dorms. A parent asked if they should prepare to bring their children home. 

“You can come but as we’ve mentioned, you do have to be aware of the ever changing situation that’s happening and the impact to jackson state – we are not gonna turn away a student who arrives but it really is up to you at this point and your comfort level of whether you arrive on saturday,” Brown-McClure said. 

During the town hall, Brown-McClure repeatedly told students that the campus is not in an “evacuation situation.” 

“Again, the campus is open; we are not closed,” Brown-McClure said. “You can still hang out, you can still walk the plaza. I just looked outside. It’s a very beautiful day. Please engage with your peers … we just have to be mindful.” 

“Campus safety is still here, the dining hall is still here, we are open,” she added. 

The university can’t make any adjustments to tuition or housing because those rates are set by the state, Brown-McClure told students. 

The administrators also fielded multiple questions from students about efforts to get JSU its own water system, a goal that became particularly urgent after last year’s ice storm froze flowing water to the university. Jackson’s water issues have caused periods of low and no water pressure on JSU’s campus as far back as 2010

Hudson told students that JSU is actively working to study the feasibility of building its own water system on campus. He said there is state and federal funding available to help the university construct its own water system, but he did not go into specifics. 

Four Mississippi universities have their own water systems, according to the Institutions of Higher Learning, including Alcorn State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Mississippi State University, and the University of Mississippi. 

The uses its own water source for about 90% of campus with the remaining coming from the city.

In an email to the faculty senate last week, Bolden wrote that the university has “initiated requests for funding to determine the best option to meet” its needs, including preparing a plan for an alternate water supply to serve JSU. It is “a primary and recurring conversation with the Department of Finance and Administration, members of the MS State Legislature, and officials in the City of Jackson.” 

Millsaps is also looking to construct its own well system due to the impacts of the 2021 ice storm on students and the campus. The university is currently in the fundraising phase of the project. 

Mitchell said that while Millsaps did not find a “direct correlation” between the ice storm and a decline in enrollment, Jackson’s water woes are difficult on students, faculty and staff. 

“Part of the beauty of going to Millsaps is we have a great residential experience,” she said, “and certainly water is a key piece of that.” 

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

Greenwood Leflore Hospital reopens 12 hospital beds


Greenwood Leflore Hospital reopens 12 hospital beds

Greenwood Leflore Hospital is reopening some of its inpatient operations as of Wednesday, but its intensive care unit remains closed. 

The 208-bed hospital suspended inpatient services last week following a sewage leak that caused patients to be transferred to other facilities and clinics to be shut down for three days. 

Twelve of the hospital’s medical and surgical beds will be reopened. They will be utilized by post-surgery patients, medical admissions and patients who require less than 24 hours of medical supervision. 

Hospital officials said that the beds will be staffed by employees of the hospital, not contract laborers. 

“The hospital has committed to continuing service availability without the use of contract labor,” hospital officials said in a press release. 

The hospital is continuing to analyze inpatient services it has closed, including its intensive care unit. Its labor and delivery unit is currently staffed at the minimum level required by federal law for providing emergency medical treatment. 

“This analysis was required to determine, with labor shortages and higher labor costs, how the hospital can continue to operate inpatient services while covering the cost of providing those services,” the press release stated.

The hospital, which is jointly owned by Leflore County and the city of Greenwood, laid off 30 people in May to offset losses during the pandemic. It announced in June that it is in talks with the University of Mississippi Medical Center on a joint operation agreement. 

Hospital officials have not answered questions about the number of employees affected by the changes in services. 

Last week, clogged manholes forced sewage into the crawl space below the hospital. As a result, at least 17 patients were transferred to six other hospitals across Mississippi and one hospital in Arkansas. At least 16 patients were discharged. 

After the sewage problem was resolved, the hospital resumed all outpatient services and reopened the clinics located outside of the main hospital building. 

The hospital is one of the largest employers in Leflore County with 770 employees.

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

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