In case you haven’t recently ventured outside one of Mississippi’s relatively few urban areas, please be reminded that Mississippi is a very rural state – very, very rural indeed. Hence the great significance of work by the Mississippi Rural Health Association, which just hosted its 17th Annual Conference over two days at the Jackson Hilton.
Produced by the College of Health through a management contract with MRHA (kudos to Mr. Ryan Kelly and his crack team of organizers for their superb job), the conference packed a real punch both from educational and professional networking perspectives.
Unfortunately, as detailed by expert presenters from celebrity doc Rick deShazo, to Therese Hanna of the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, and Brock Slabach of the National Rural Health Association, the health needs of rural Mississippians are great, complex, and growing. Worse, scarce resources at both federal and state levels are exposed to new threats by sequestration, the general fiscal crisis, and legislative gridlock in Washington. A panel of Mississippi legislators, including the eminently pragmatic USM alum Toby Barker, could offer little hope on the funding front. The Mississippi economy is in the tank, and the prospect of expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act sends shivers up legislative spines for fear of the eventual costs.
There are rays of hope here and there. For the moment, at least, Mississippi’s network of rural hospitals and clinics remains functional. Promising prevention and wellness programs are popping up with increasing frequency. Providers, planners and policy makers remain passionate in their mission to address rural health care needs.
But there is so, so much work to be done in this very, very rural state.