A reorganization of the Mississippi State Department of Health has some concerned rural communities will have less access to medical care.
Beginning July 1, the Mississippi Department of Health will operate three regional offices instead of nine district ones, because of budget cuts. They'll be located in Tupelo, Jackson and Biloxi. State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier says the move saves $2 million in overhead and salaries. Some positions will also be eliminated through retirements, resignations and reassignments. Currier says midyear cuts left the agency with $31 million for 2017. She says the budget for next year is less.
"For fiscal year 2018, which starts this coming July 1st, we have about $24.5 million dollars. A lot of our budget is federally funded about half of it, and our state funds, our state appropriation, is only about 10 percent of our budget," said Currier.
Currier says the 10 percent provides funding for needed services, like STD and HIV follow-ups, the state lab and restaurant inspections. She's hopeful rural areas won't be negatively impacted. Democratic Senator Willie Simmons of Cleveland, has his doubts. He says the cumulative effect of these agency cuts along with reductions to the department of mental health and the University of Mississippi Medical Center will hurt poor rural communities.
"I'm concerned, very, very concerned and It could cause everything west of Interstate 55 to look like a third world country," said Simmons.
Ryan Kelly with the Mississippi Rural Health Association says hospitals and clinics will work to fill the gaps.
"I think it's a burden that our system can manage, certainly they can grow into, as many of our clinics are very lean and able to adapt," said Kelly.
District offices in Batesville, Greenwood, McComb, Meridian, Hattiesburg and Starkville will close July 1.