Saturday, December 2, 2023

Doctors, legislators, students discuss rural health care in MS

With more and more medical facilities struggling to stay afloat in rural areas, William Carey University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine is doing what it can to find solutions.

This week, the university is holding its third Rural Health Summit to raise awareness not only of the issues surrounding the lack of medical care in rural areas but also to encourage students and community leaders to help. to change the narrative.

Many hospitals in the state’s rural communities are struggling to stay afloat. Some have had to cut services and others are considering closing their doors, not only because of lack of income but because fewer doctors are willing to work in rural areas.

One of the ways WCU is leading the charge is by sending third- and fourth-year students to rural areas for the second half of their medical training.

“One of the things we’re looking at is becoming a pipeline to these hospitals,” said Dr. Italo Subbarao, dean of WCU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.

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Another successful step is to recruit medical students from areas in need, because they have stronger connections to those areas and are more likely to stay.

Dr. Ilse Levin, a board member of the American Medical Association is one of the guests scheduled to speak at the summit.

“We know that only about 4.3% of medical students today are from rural communities,” Levin said. “Trying to get someone to stay in the community if they’re not from there is very difficult.”

Levin said reaching potential students while they are in elementary and high school to get them thinking about a career in health care is important to recruiting.

“We can start the interest in working in health care as soon as possible,” he said.

Levin would also like to see local colleges and universities offer programs available at medical schools so students can begin their health care education closer to home.

Another need is to have positions for training slots in different specialty areas, said Levin.

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In addition to staffing issues, changes in Medicare reimbursement are key to keeping rural hospitals financially viable. The amount that hospitals pay for patient care does not always reflect the actual cost, which creates a financial loss that some hospitals cannot absorb.

Last Thursday, Gov. Tate Reeves that the state will implement two measures that will increase funding for struggling hospitals through improved Medicaid payments.

Through the Mississippi Hospital Access Program, the state will provide direct payments to hospitals that serve patients in the Mississippi Medicaid managed care system, the Clarion Ledger reported in an earlier story. With these mandated payments, hospitals are paid close to the average commercial rate.

In addition, the state plans to increase the Medicaid base payment to hospitals by returning inpatient and outpatient hospital services to the fee-for-service system up to the upper limit of Medicare reimbursement.

It’s through discussions like WCU’s Rural Health Summit that help inform policymakers and encourage them to make better decisions about state healthcare funding.

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The second university summit, held earlier this year, put a spotlight on maternal and baby health as well as the high mortality rate for both, especially in rural areas.

Subbarao said the conversations held at the first summit helped state lawmakers understand the need for long-term postnatal care.

The conversations helped build momentum for a new law that extends Medicaid coverage from 60 days to a year after birth to provide more medical support to low-income mothers, Subbarao said.

“I think that summit was one of the dominoes that were in the final round that really helped us push that bill,” he said.

Other speakers at the summit include:

  • Kathleen Creason, CEO of the American Osteopathic Association
  • dr. John Mitchell, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association
  • dr. Anita Henderson is a pediatrician at the Hattiesburg Clinic
  • dr. Stephen Farrow with the National Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute
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