Mississippi State’s deep roots in the Delta are growing deeper, thanks to a unique partnership between the MSU Extension Service and the University of Mississippi Medical Center that’s making a positive impact on health and wellness in Humphreys County.
The UMMC Community Care Clinic in Belzoni, which opened its doors to patient care in December 2017, is much more than an after-hours, acute-care medical facility. It offers a range of services to help people of all ages live healthier lifestyles — from family education and disease prevention to nutrition and fitness guidance.
The clinic’s health care outreach builds on the work the MSU Extension Service has been doing in Humphreys County for decades, says David Buys, assistant Extension and research professor in the department of food science, nutrition, and health promotion at MSU.
Buys is referring to the origins of the national Cooperative Extension System, which was created by the Smith-Lever Act in 1914 as part of an effort to modernize the country’s outmoded, inefficient agricultural industry.
Mississippi State and other land-grant universities were charged with establishing and leading Extension programs in each state. Over the next century, they played vital roles in transforming American agriculture by partnering with farmers at the local level to advance farming practices and techniques.
While increased agricultural production was the primary goal, the Extension model recognized that healthy, connected communities were at the heart of thriving agricultural economies. In addition to their focus on agricultural and natural resources, Extension agents promoted family and consumer science — for example, by teaching safe food-handling practices to prevent food-borne illnesses and introducing 4-H programs to support positive youth development.
Building on a century of success, the MSU Extension Service continues to offer research-based education programs in Mississippi communities, many of which lack access to quality health care. That was the situation facing Humphreys County in 2013 when the local hospital in Belzoni closed its doors. Two primary care clinics continued providing services but were open only during normal business hours. That meant those seeking urgent-care attention after hours or on weekends had no choice but to drive at least 20 miles to the nearest hospital.
After consulting with UMMC leaders, the Humphreys County Board of Supervisors agreed that an after-hours clinic could effectively cover gaps in the county’s health care needs. They offered space to UMMC for the clinic in the Humphreys County Sherrill Building, next to the MSU Extension office. The board felt that co-locating the entities would create a convenient and accessible health care hub for area residents.
With a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, UMMC formed a consortium with MSU Extension, the State Department of Health and Mississippi Delta Community College to expand the clinic’s focus to include preventive care, healthy living and health care job training. The grant also funded the addition of classroom space, a fitness room and a walking track.
“When our only hospital closed, we were faced with a serious health care crisis that UMMC and the consortium helped solve,” says Dickie Stevens, president of the Humphreys County Board of Supervisors. “Now residents have access to quality health care in a convenient location that offers many state-of-the-art programs and services. It’s definitely a step in the right direction to improve our community’s quality of life.”
The UMMC Community Care Clinic, which is staffed by nurse practitioners and registered nurses, is open from 2 to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends and is equipped to treat acute illnesses and injuries that are not life-threatening and do not require emergency room visits. Its capabilities are augmented by telehealth services that provide access to 35 specialties based at the Medical Center in Jackson in addition to remote patient monitoring equipment.
The fact that UMMC’s clinic and the MSU Extension office are next-door neighbors bodes well for clinic patients, especially those dealing with chronic conditions that can be improved by acquiring new life skills. For instance, local agents Preston Aust and Regina Boykins offer those with diabetes healthier ways to shop for and cook food while providing home environment assistance to asthma sufferers.
Increasing the Extension Service’s access to residents who are likely to benefit from health education is one of the many strengths of UMMC’s innovative health care partnership. It also builds on the Extension Service’s foundational mission – extending knowledge and changing lives.