A ribbon-cutting was held Friday morning in the Delta town of Marks to celebrate the improbable re-opening of the Quitman Community Hospital.

Multiple rural Mississippi hospitals have closed in recent years because of financial difficulties. The Quitman County medical center is one of the few to reopen.

“For the first time in five years, Quitman County residents will have access to critical care with the reopening of this rural hospital,” said state Sen. Robert Jackson, who represents Quitman County and the area the hospital will serve. “It’s nothing short of a miracle to see this come to fruition, especially in a time when we are going through a pandemic and our current political climate. I can’t think of anyone who is against this particular project.”

In September, the Quitman County Board of Supervisors voted to reopen the hospital in partnership with the Panola Medical Center in Batesville and with the Delta Medical Foundation, which provides clinical health care in the area.

“This means that 75-100 good paying jobs will return to the county, and it goes without saying, we need a hospital close by to provide medical services for our citizens,” said Manuel Killebrew, president of the Quitman County Board of Supervisors.

According to a news release, the hospital will offer both 24-hour emergency medical services and beds for those who need hospitalization.

Various statistics indicate the county, which has about 6,800 residents, according to the latest U.S. Census, is in dire need of medical help. According to the National Rural Accountable Care Commission, the county ranks 79th of the 82 counties in Mississippi in terms of health outcomes.

Quentin Whitwell, chief executive officer and chairman of the board for the Panola Medical Center, said reopening the hospital in nearby Quitman County will help improve health care outcomes for the region.

“Serving our patient populations in the North Delta region is our mission. Providing exceptional care for better health is our driven passion,” Whitwell said in a news release.

U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson, who represents Quitman County and who attended the ribbon-cutting, said, if the state would expand Medicaid as is allowed under federal law to provide health care coverage to primarily the working poor, it would help ensure rural hospitals like the ones in Panola and Quitman counties do not close.

“The Quitman County Hospital closed because of Gov. Reeves’ unwillingness to expand Medicaid,” said Thompson, a Democrat. “The governor shouldn’t turn down federal dollars that will give Mississippians the same healthcare coverage that he also enjoys.” 

Reeves, along with other state leaders, have refused to expand Medicaid, saying the state cannot afford its share of the cost. Under the program, the bulk of the costs is paid by the federal government and there have been studies, including by the Mississippi University Research Center, indicating expanding Medicaid would result in additional funds to the state general fund. 

The Mississippi Hospital Association had joined other groups in trying to place on the ballot a citizen-sponsored initiative to expand Medicaid. But in May the entire initiative process was struck down by the Mississippi Supreme Court. 

U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker also attended the ribbon-cutting on Friday.

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.