State leaders in public health discussed trends, issues, and strategies as part of the Annual Public Health Symposium held Wednesday, April 5 at The University of Southern Mississippi (USM). The symposium was presented by USM’s School of Health Professions and the Dr. Lynn Cook Hartwig Public Health Program.
The symposium featured presentations by Daniel Edney, State Health Officer, Mississippi State Department of Health, and Roy Hart, Chief Executive Officer, Mississippi Public Health Institute. Also included was an alumni panel of public health professionals who explained the role of their respective organizations in public health.
Dr. Lachel Story, Dean of the USM College of Nursing Health Professionals, noted that the symposium coincided with National Public Health Week.
“This is a great time for us to focus on health, especially as we come out of the COVID-19 pandemic and really look at how we can move forward to improve, not just the state’s health, but also the nation’s with our health professional programs here at USM. It is critically important for us to lead those efforts,” said Story.
Hart delivered a presentation titled, “Current Public Health Trends and Issues.” As a USM alum, he stressed the importance of staying connected to the academic institutions that are training and preparing student to enter the public health workforce.
“What we try to do at the Mississippi Public Health Institute is facilitate a dialogue, and one of my goals moving forward will be facilitating a dialogue in a plan possibly for the state agencies that work with us – those who can potentially hire students or work with the academic institutions – in conversations about what their needs are, what their expectations are for students and what kind of career paths might exist for students,” said Hart.
Mississippi continues to rank near the bottom in all major health categories including diabetes, hypertension, and life expectancy. Hart points out that financial resources play a significant role in the state’s public health deficiencies
“Historically, public health has been underfunded in Mississippi,” said Hart. “There has been very little state general funds investment in public health in Mississippi. From our contiguous states, Mississippi is the lowest-funded state-funded public health entity. I think we invest about $15 per capita in public health and surrounding states are much higher than that.”
Added Hart: “Secondary, is that we have transitioned away from COVID-19 back to a thought process about traditional public health. That underfunding of public health has left us very aware of what some of the gaps were in our public health system, not only in Mississippi, but regionally and nationally.”
Last month Gov. Tate Reeves signed legislation that would solidify a full year of Medicaid coverage for women after they give birth. Hart says that this type of bi-partisan action helps bring public health issues to the forefront in Mississippi.
“One of the challenges Mississippi women have experienced for years is having enough post-partum care to assure that they didn’t incur some health effect as a result of their pregnancy. Something that might cost them their lives or cause them to have hospital-based care that would increase their cost of care,” said Hart. “We’re starting to understand that investments on the front end and prevention strategies can reduce the likelihood that we’re going to have a higher morbidity and mortality. Just one investment in changing policy, essentially could have far reaching consequences.”
To learn more about the School of Health Professions at USM, call 601.266.5437 or visit: https://www.usm.edu/health-professions/index.php