- Challenged by Congressman Gene Taylor to fill the health care
needs of war veterans, The University of Southern Mississippi announced
plans today it would seek a collaboration with the Gulfport VA hospital
that would transform it into a teaching hospital.
a Veterans Day ceremony in Gulfport, Taylor challenged Southern
Miss President Dr. Shelby Thames to give back to a veteran community
that has "sacrificed so much" for its country.
is talk of shutting down the Gulfport VA and running it at the Biloxi
VA, and I don't like that one bit," said Taylor, who is a senior
member of the House Armed Services Committee in the House of Representatives.
Dr. Thames, who was in attendance at the ceremony, Taylor continued:
"I know Dr. Thames, and I know he never backs away from a challenge.
That's why he has offered his expertise and the expertise of those
at The University of Southern Mississippi to team up with the Veterans
Administration to transform the VA Gulfport into a teaching hospital,
which will care for the veterans of this country while training
the next generation of health care professionals in south Mississippi."
said Taylor asked him personally to look at the health care needs
of the veterans of the Mississippi Gulf Coast and to "do whatever
we could as a comprehensive university to see that those needs were
currently having to wait for medical treatment because of a lack
of available services, Dr. Thames said. With Southern Miss being
on the Gulf Coast and having bachelor's through Ph.D. programs and
facilities that stretch all the way from Stennis Space Center to
Ocean Springs, it makes sense that our university should fill that
health care void, he said.
is a tremendous facility here in Gulfport, a gorgeous facility that
was a hospital and is still a hospital, so basically it's just a
matter of amalgamating our programs together," Dr. Thames said.
"And the cost of doing this in a cooperative fashion will be
significantly less than if we attempted to start a health care facility
for these veterans from scratch."
said Southern Miss, which educates more nurses than any other school
in the state and offers degrees through the Ph.D. level, already
has nurses working with the VA hospital. "We have psychologists
down here on staff, and some of their psychologists come to Hattiesburg
and teach. We could do that in a much more extensive collaboration,
save lots of money and become much more efficient and offer programs
we do not now currently offer."
The next step
in this process, Dr. Thames said, is for the university to talk
with the constituents of the Gulf Coast - patients, veterans, VA
administrators, staff, business leaders, educators - and to determine
"what the real needs are and what it is they want Southern
Miss to do."
we've been issued this challenge, I think it's imperative that we
take this seriously and make a strong effort to find out what those
needs are, then go to our Board of Trustees of State Institutions
of Higher Learning and say, 'Here is the need, we want to fill it.'"
chief of voluntary service at the Gulfport VA, said he thinks veterans
and citizens of the Gulf Coast would welcome efforts by Southern
Miss to turn the embattled hospital into a teaching facility.
just tell by the reception today that a lot of people are excited
about this," Cassell said.
that the need for such a hospital is long overdue. More than one-third
of the state's veterans live in the fourth congressional district,
and the number will peak in about 12 years, he said. "For the
foreseeable future, this is a challenge because the number of veterans
we have will never be smaller than what we have now. It's here today,
and it's going to be an even bigger challenge 10 years from now.
We're always going to have veterans, from the Iraq war to future
wars that must be taken care of," Taylor said.
Miss' success in building world-class polymer science and medical
technologies programs, Taylor said it is just "the next logical
step to develop a medical center using the buildings that are available
in Gulfport and using the patients that are there needing to be
As the demographics
of an aging nation start to favor retirees over working-age populations,
more health care professionals will be necessary to meet rising
medical needs, Taylor said. "We have a lot of people who'll
have great unmet needs unless we have more of these professionals,
and so we're fulfilling that need. Once they graduate they can go
out and serve patients in south Mississippi, so I see lots of good
things coming from this."