The Yazoo County Health Department in Yazoo City, Miss., Tuesday, October 18, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

The Yazoo County Health Department will reopen next week after nearly nine months.

As Mississippi’s health care infrastructure continues to crumble, the reopening could mean more access to health care in Yazoo County. 

However, what services will be offered is unclear. The Mississippi State Department of Health’s communications department declined to answer specific questions about the health care services provided at the Yazoo health department, instead directing Mississippi Today to a general list of services offered at county health departments. 

Spokespeople did not respond by press time as to whether all of the listed services, which include breast and cervical cancer, domestic violence and rape, and other services for women and mothers, are offered at Yazoo in particular.

Yazoo County is a maternity care desert – it has not had labor and delivery services since the early 1990s, and there are no practicing OB-GYNs. All county health departments stopped accepting maternity patients in 2016.

Spokespeople also declined to answer questions about Yazoo’s staffing levels and how long it was closed, though its website says the Yazoo health department has been closed for renovations since September of last year. 

According to the department’s press release, the county health department won’t be open full time — it’ll only operate Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. 

The state health department has closed 10 county health departments in the last decade. Nine of those were closed in 2016, when the state health department’s budget was slashed. In remaining county health departments, hours and services have been reduced.

State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney requested money from the Legislature this year to increase nursing staff levels at county health departments across the state, but lawmakers did not appropriate those funds.

County health departments are typically funded through a combination of county, state and federal money, Edney said in an interview with Mississippi Today. 

“We utilize all the resources we can from our federal partners to help the county health departments, but the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) does not fund public health at the county level,” he said. “It’s up to us to do that, and we just don’t have enough state funding.”

Currently, most nurses at county health departments are paid through federal dollars, which have strings attached, Edney said. He needs state money so nurses have more freedom in the services they can provide. 

Though Edney said the need for county health departments has decreased over the decades as health care has improved, Mississippi’s health care infrastructure is in trouble. 

A third of hospitals are at risk of closure, one report says, and hospitals have shuttered service lines across the state.

“We need every partner that we can get,” Edney said. “The county health department, it should be an incredibly valuable resource. 

“Everybody has this mentality of how it used to be in the 1960s, that every county health department was fully staffed and open five days a week. The funding just isn’t there anymore.”

The renovated county health department has new doors and bathrooms, as well as ADA compliant access and parking. A press release from the Mississippi State Department of Health said an updated lab and clinic areas would allow for better patient flow. 

After a ribbon cutting and open house on Monday afternoon, the clinic will officially resume operations on Tuesday. 

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Devna Bose, a Neshoba County native, covers community health. She is a 2019 graduate of the University of Mississippi, where she studied print journalism and was a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College. Before joining Mississippi Today, Devna reported on education at Chalkbeat Newark and at the Post and Courier’s Education Lab, and on race and social justice at the Charlotte Observer. Her work has appeared in the Hechinger Report, the Star-Ledger and the Associated Press, and she has appeared on WNYC to discuss her reporting. Devna has been awarded for her coverage of K-12 education in the Carolinas.