Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons, far left, with U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson, far right, at the presentation of federal funds for a primary care clinic on Tuesday, Feb. 14, 2023. Credit: City of Greenville

Local leadership in the Delta says the region’s crumbling health system has been abandoned by the state – so they’re figuring out how to fix it on their own with the help of federal funds.

Greenville’s mayor and a local health clinic say they’re working to give people in the Delta better access to doctors and primary care, as hospitals around them shutter and strip back specialty care. As a result, the city of Greenville received $2 million in federal funds to construct a new health clinic in partnership with the Delta Health Center.

“This is a bottom-up action in response to the state’s failure to act,” said Greenville Mayor Errick Simmons. “We went straight to the solution, and we will continue to do these types of projects to make sure our folks get the health care they need.” 

Simmons accepted a symbolic check from U.S. Congressman Bennie Thompson who helped secure the funds from a House spending bill earmarked for community projects during a Tuesday press conference. Thompson announced close to $18.8 million in federal funds for his district, which covers much of Western Mississippi.

“A lot of you have heard of the trouble that health care is having in the Delta,” Thompson said during the press conference. “Our governor, for some reason, doesn’t want to help.” 

Thompson was referring to Gov. Tate Reeve’s firm stance against Medicaid expansion, despite a mounting statewide hospital crisis. New data from mid-January shows that 38% of Mississippi hospitals are at risk of closing. Of the 28 rural hospitals at risk of closing, 19 are at risk of shuttering immediately. 

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Reeves’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Mississippi Today. 

Greenwood Leflore Hospital recently shuttered its labor and delivery unit, primary care clinic and reduced other services. Delta Health-The Medical Center in Greenville also closed its neonatal intensive care unit and cardiac rehabilitation department last year.

Simmons said he applied for the grant last year because he feared the Delta would continue to lose access to doctors. Already, he said, there is only one pediatrician for every 4,000 children in the region. 

He hopes other cities may copy his approach to help fund sorely needed primary care options to lessen the burden on the hospital system, which continues to struggle against massive staffing shortages. 

“I think the Biden-Harris administration has a wealth of opportunities to begin grabbing pockets of money, working from local government to federal government, providing better access to quality health care to the folks that deeply need it,” Simmons said. 

Delta Health Center CEO John Fairman said the new facility is projected to cost about $10 million to construct. He said he is in conversations with other funding sources and hopes to break ground on the new building before the end of the year. 

The vision is for the clinic to better make use of telehealth options to connect rural residents who may not have internet access in their homes with specialists virtually. A nurse or a physician assistant would be in the room in person, too, helping facilitate care.

“Then they can make an assessment for intervention and as to whether or not they need to arrange transport to get to a specialist (in person),” Fairman said. “Once we get a better understanding of the data, we can have a specialist where the most acute cases are (scheduled weekly in person).” 

The new clinic would also have a pharmacy open until 11 p.m. – most Delta pharmacies close at 6 p.m.

Fairman said the future of health care in the Delta needs to be collaborative, and he’s already in discussion with county hospitals on how to better partner. The Delta continues to be among the unhealthiest parts of the state with high percentages of uninsured residents. Fairman and Simmons want better health care intervention to prevent hospital visits. 

“We need other ways to offer care after hours so people are not crowding up the emergency room, and we’re preserving trauma centers and emergency rooms for the people who really need that,” Fairman said.

Medicaid expansion would mean between 200,000 and 300,000 more Mississippians would have access to health insurance and hospitals would have an easier time being reimbursed for care rendered. More than 15 state bills that would have expanded Medicaid to provide coverage to the working poor died earlier this month without any debate or vote in the House or Senate. 

“Had Mississppi accepted the expansion nine years ago, they would have accrued about $14 billion dollars that would go toward health care,” Thompson said. “But somehow they think people don’t need that.” 

Simmons has little faith in the state stepping up to support what his community needs. He hopes more mayors are emboldened to think creatively. 

“An unhealthy child cannot go to school to learn; an unhealthy adult cannot work,” Simmons said. “This is a way for us to begin addressing an epic state failure.” 

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