The University of Mississippi Medical Center 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 Trust Fund. 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.

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.