Sen. Brice Wiggins (left) listens as Hob Bryan, Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Chairman (right) comments during a medical marijuana hearing at the State Capitol Monday. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Senate Public Health Committee Chair Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said no one is tasked with looking at Mississippi’s overall health care system. That is what he hopes to do in an upcoming meeting of the Public Health Committee.

Bryan’s Public Health Committee is slated to meet at 1:15 Monday afternoon at the state Capitol to address the “financial crisis of hospitals in Mississippi.”

State Health Officer Daniel Edney and others have commented on the problems and the possible closure of multiple hospitals across the state.

“This is not just a Delta problem,” Bryan said, backing up Edney and others. “It is an overall state problem.”

When asked what hospitals faced the possibility of closure, Bryan did not answer directly, but said both North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo and Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg “have said they will lose tens of millions of dollars … next year. They can sustain it for a while because they have reserves, and they can do other things.”

But Bryan said if those two medical centers – two of the larger hospitals in the state located in, by Mississippi standards, affluent areas – “are saying that, can you imagine what is happening in other areas?”

Bryan said many entities in the state are tasked with oversight of aspects the health care system, but no one looks at the whole system. He said that is, in part, what will be explored during his committee hearing.

For instance, he said the state Board of Health develops an overall health care plan. That plan would say there needs to be a hospital in Greenwood but would not address how to ensure that is the case.

Ensuring prison inmates are treated close to where they are housed would provide much needed revenue to hospitals in those underserved areas, particularly in the Delta, he said. Another option would be to establish a nursing home for inmates paid for primarily through federally funded Medicaid. That nursing home could be operated by a hospital, giving the medical center funds to help it stay open.

“I don’t know if any of this is feasible, but I do know no one is looking at it,” he said.

Bryan said there has been a long-term problem with Mississippi hospitals, but now there is an acute or immediate problem caused in part by the COVID-19 pandemic that has driven up salaries for health care providers, particularly nurses.

He said insurance companies and other factors are pushing the more lucrative medical procedures away from hospitals while leaving the hospitals to perform the less lucrative procedures. Often patients must travel longer distances to undergo the procedures.

Asked whether Medicaid expansion, providing health care to 200,000 or more primarily uninsured Mississippians with mainly federal money would help, he said, “Of course … I will talk about Medicaid expansion forever, but you know, what more can you do?”

Bryan was referring to the fact that opposition from many of the state’s political leaders, primarily Gov. Tate Reeves and House Speaker Philip Gunn, have blocked efforts to consider Medicaid expansion that has been adopted by 39 other states.

The Senate hearing is slated to be livestreamed on Mississippi Legislature’s YouTube page.

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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.