OP-ED: Delta Health Alliance Means Better Health
By Bill Kennedy*
Late last year, Delta Health Alliance was awarded a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand our telemedicine initiative in the Delta. Funding from the USDA will help link rural critical hospitals with the state-of-the-art critical care center operated by the University of Mississippi Medical Center through secure electronic connections. The proposed hospital sites include Ruleville, Charleston, Rolling Fork, and Parchman. Critical care doctors and nurses at UMC in Jackson will be able to monitor local patients, prescribe care, and collaborate with Delta physicians, all without leaving Jackson or having patients transported to Jackson for care.
The USDA grant is just one of many that has been awarded to Delta Health Alliance, a regional non-profit organization focused on improving the health and health care of Delta residents. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is funding a three-year $15 million program with Delta Health Alliance to help treat patients with diabetes. It’s called a Beacon grant. The Mississippi Delta has one of the highest rates in the country of this chronic disease. One Beacon initiative places pharmacists in local clinics to work more directly with patients.
Consider the story of a diabetic patient in her mid-60’s. After getting to know her and spending time with her, the pharmacist determined that what the physician thought the patient was taking and what the patient was actually taking were two different things. When the doctor prescribed an additional medication, the patient would stop the current medication and replace it with the new one. The physician intended for the patient to take both; for example, the doctor had prescribed several blood pressure medicines that were intended to work together to control the blood pressure, but the patient dropped the old prescriptions and was only taking the most recent one. The DHA/Beacon pharmacist was able to adjust the medications immediately.
We’ve learned that increasing access to health care and educating individuals about healthy living are the keys to improving the overall health care in our Delta. That’s why we’ve partnered with four local organizations in Greenville, Belzoni, Greenwood and Indianola to operate clinics for the working poor, uninsured and underinsured. In 2011, they processed over 18,650 patient visits. These clinics not only offer basic primary care but they also utilize a “team approach” involving physicians, nurses, nutritionists and social workers in educating each patient about the role of diet, exercise, and medication in contributing to good health. More than 16,000 Delta residents attended one of our healthy living classes.
Delta Health Alliance has agreements and contracts for healthcare services, education, and job training programs with over two dozen agencies and organizations located in or serving communities all over the Delta. And we hope to do even more in 2012. Please visit our website at www.deltahealthalliance.org for more information.
*Bill Kennedy lives and works in Inverness and is chairman of the DHA Board of Directors.