Weeks after announcing an affiliation with Nashville’s Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the University of Mississippi Medical Center is joining forces with another hospital, this time in its own state.

On Monday, UMMC announced a collaboration between Children’s of Mississippi and Gulfport Memorial Hospital. As part of the agreement, Children’s is acquiring four of Memorial’s six pediatric clinics and taking over the management of the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“Memorial and UMMC are similar institutions with similar cultures, values and beliefs and dedication to provide high quality and excellent patient care,” said Gary Marchand, president and CEO of Memorial.  “Together, through our partnership with Children’s of Mississippi, we will preserve the long-term viability of pediatric services currently available and provide for more convenient access to specialty care for our youngest residents.”

Memorial is the largest hospital on the Gulf Coast, and tens of thousands of pediatrics patients pass through its six clinics each year. But its coastal location means many of these referrals go out of state to nearby Oschner Medical Center in New Orleans or University of South Alabama in Mobile.

Before the UMMC collaboration, Memorial only staffed doctors in general pediatrics. Under this new agreement, Memorial will staff a number of pediatric specialists on the Coast, from neurology to oncology and gastrointestinal. This allows those patients to remain in the state and in Memorial’s network, a significant benefit for both hospitals.

Memorial’s four pediatric clinics will be rebranded as Children’s clinics, and UMMC will have first dibs on referrals. The same is true for the level three Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Memorial. Like UMMC, both South Alabama and Oschner have level IV NICUs.

“The nature of the beast is that in pediatrics, because young children are all healthy, really, you really need a large population density to make the pediatric specialty programs viable,” Marchand said. “Nationally they tend to consolidate around academic medial centers, so we’re partnering with the university to bring those specialties closer to home.”

The ability to expand care without major financial risk is important for Memorial, which has struggled with a budget deficit in recent years. Operating losses at the hospital have ranged from $3.7 million to $4.8 million per year since 2013, when the state changed its Medicaid reimbursement formula.

And in December, Memorial announced plans to sell its psychiatric hospital and two outpatient clinics to Universal Health Services Inc.

“This is really a first step to elevate pediatric care on the Coast,” Marchand said. “Everything seems to be getting more aligned, more consolidated and more efficient from a physician standpoint (at hospitals, nationally).”

In January, UMMC began managing the Memorial NICU, the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s only Level III unit. The recently updated unit offers 24-hour care to newborns with special needs and has 11 semi-private rooms with 23 NICU beds.

UMMC will also take over staffing of Memorial’s pediatric hospitalist service. Hospitalists are in-house physicians who focus exclusively on hospitalized patients. Once a patient is discharged from the hospital, the patient will once again receive care from the referring or primary care physician.

Memorial will continue to operate all inpatient hospital services including labor and delivery.

“Our goal is to touch the lives of Mississippi’s children,” said Guy Giesecke, CEO of Children’s of Mississippi. “By providing care closer to home for coastal families, we seek to … (give) children in the Mississippi Gulf Coast region the healthiest start in life.”

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Larrison Campbell is a Greenville native who reports on politics with an emphasis on public health. She received a bachelor’s from Wesleyan University and a master’s from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.Larrison is a 2018 National Press Foundation fellow in public health, a 2019 Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Massachusetts fellow in health care reporting and a 2019 Center for Health Journalism National Fellow.