Mississippi healthcare officials are putting in their requests for some of the 1.8 billion dollars in federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated to the state, testifying before a Senate subcommittee.
Construction-related lab repairs, antiquated technology and leaking roofs are among the infrastructure problems at the Mississippi Department of Health’s main campus in Jackson. State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs tells legislators getting up to date technology and connectivity is a must.
“Believe it or not we still use a lot of fax machines. Now that’s not just a problem of us, but our infrastructure in our communications with docs and hospitals, a lot of it is still antiquated. So, when I talk to some of our federal colleagues in Congress and they learned that we’re using a lot of fax machines for COVID reporting they were absolutely appalled. So we need some IT modernization for sure,” Dobbs said.
Dobbs says it will take nearly $14 million to upgrade the department’s computers, phone system and internet. He also says it would take another $107 million to upgrade many of the state’s 92 county health departments. He says by statute counties provide the health department with a building to use for health department offices.
Dobbs says a lot of the buildings are old and many counties make little to no repairs to the facilities. He shares slides of the dilapidated conditions in county health departments. He talks about mold on a door workers wash with bleach and it comes back, dilapidated sparse furnishings, bathrooms with poor plumbing that are not maintained.
"This is sometimes where people get their healthcare. And just think about when you look at these buildings, 'is this where you would want to go and is this where you would want to take your family for healthcare services'"?
Dr. LouAnn Woodward, Vice Chancellor of University of Mississippi Medical Center, also made her requests to lawmakers. She says some of the campus buildings like the nursing and dental schools date back 50 years or more.
“Both of those schools are in facilities that are outdated and undersized and not modern. They are not aligned with the modern day type curriculum for training nursing students and dental students,” Woodward said.
The vice chancellor says there is a growing need for adolescent mental health services and they don't have the dedicated space to provide care. Woodward says water infrastructure needs to be upgraded and one building floods when it rains hard. She says they have their own water wells but several buildings are connected to the Jackson water system, so when the city has water problems it hampers their ability to provide services.
But the biggest challenge Woodward says, is a national one, lack of staffing. From nurses, to respiratory therapists and lab techs, the shortage led them to close 60 beds. Woodard says yesterday at 7 a.m. they had 33 patients they were holding in the Emergency Department because there were not enough beds staffed to accommodate them.
Woodward is requesting $360 million of the federal COVID-19 relief funds, which would include a new comprehensive cancer center. She says it's a complicated endeavor and expensive but Mississippi needs such a facility.