The Delta Health Alliance

Inspiring Health Programs Still Face Challenges

Posted on: January 26, 2011

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On the last day of our visit to Mississippi’s Delta region, Dr. Karen Fox, President and CEO of the Delta Health Alliance (DHA) and her team took us to the Delta Asthma Clinic, located at the Good Samaritan Health Center in Greenville. The Asthma Clinic, run by Dr. Gailen Marshall, Chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, helps treat uninsured and underinsured patients who lack access to specialty care coverage in the Delta.

The clinic is held the 2nd and 4th Fridays of each month and is helping patients control their chronic asthma. In addition, it provides educational opportunities for Delta primary care providers, nurses, emergency department providers and subspecialists to improve their skills in the recognition and treatment of asthma in children and adults.

With all the work that Dr. Marshall is doing, he still is worried that it is not enough. He travels four hours every other Friday from his practice in Jackson to bring his services to those who most need them. But the Delta is a large area and even his location in Greenville is still prohibitive for some Delta residents to reach. He also worries about medication accessibility and adherence to treatment protocols. Illiteracy rates are high the Delta, and Dr. Marshall cannot rely solely on prescription instructions to ensure his patients take their asthma treatments correctly. Access to more medicines, more community volunteer support and even telemedicine could help make his impact even greater.

Later in the day, we traveled to the Delta State University School of Nursing in Cleveland. Dean and Professor of Nursing, Lizabeth Carlson was pleased to show us her nursing students practicing their skills in a state-of-the-art simulated hospital intensive care unit. Dr. Carlson told me that many of her students are first generation college students and, after graduating, they get good jobs that transform their lives and the lives of their families. She also said that 40 to 50 percent of her graduates stay in the region. Still, the Delta faces a shortfall of nurses and not enough staff to deliver all the health education outreach needed by its communities.

Just as we saw yesterday, the level of dedication of the medical professionals in the region is inspiring. Yet, the needs are so evident.

We completed our visits in the Mississippi Delta with a luncheon meeting at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola. DHA Board members, community advocates and a representative from U.S. Senator Thad Cochran’s office (JoAnn Clark), attended this gathering to learn more about Project HOPE and the DHA.

Over the next month, Dr. Fox and I will continue to explore intersections of interest between our organizations — and agree on possible opportunities for collaboration to meet the health needs of the men, women and children of the Delta. I hope that you will check back later this week to learn more about our health care and education programs, here in the U.S. HOPE is bringing its mobile clinic from New Mexico to Dallas, to conduct health screenings and health education outreach in the days leading up to Super Bowl XLV.