By David Heitz
Even though we live in a country where everyone is supposed to have affordable healthcare, it hasn’t worked out that way, especially in a state like Mississippi, which has chosen not to participate in the Medicaid expansion. But nobody has to go without healthcare. The Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc., or SeMRHI, exists for that very reason. “We want to let people know SeMRHI’s mission is to provide access to affordable, quality primary and preventive healthcare to our communities in a patient-centered, safe, compassionate environment,” said Dr. Geroldean Dyse.
Some patients do not have health insurance through their employers, some patients do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, and some patients are not able to afford health insurance from the insurance exchange. “It creates a problem for our patients, and some fall through the cracks,” Dyse said.
Although SeMRHI helps people try to find a plan on the insurance exchange that is affordable and will meet their needs, sometimes it does not work out. In those cases, SeMRHI has a discounted sliding fee scale program. “We do not turn anyone away regardless of their inability to pay.”
Dr. Dyse said SeMRHI advertises “consistently,” but “some people don’t read the newspaper or listen to the local news. We are always in the community, in the housing projects, and many other places letting people know we are here to help.”
The organization launched a community outreach program in October 2013. “Our job is to help people navigate the enrollment process and answer questions about the Affordable Care Act,” said Will Harvey, Outreach Marketing Coordinator. “One of our biggest challenges is dispelling myths and stigma about the Affordable Care Act. Many people are just uninformed.”
Ryan White Funds Help Keep HIV Under Control
In some communities, people are distrustful of healthcare. Sometimes simply finding transportation to the doctor or day care for a child can be a burden.
SeMRHI is a Ryan White Provider, which means people receiving HIV care at SeMRHI are eligible for rides to their medical appointments. SeMRHI also offers confidential testing and other preventive services.
“Case managers and expert HIV providers are available five days a week from 8:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. for HIV patients,” SeMRHI explains on its website. “Services are confidential and no one else in the clinic needs to know why any patient is coming in for a visit. HIV-positive patients and their affected family members are welcome to come to the clinic. The Hattiesburg Family Health Center will provide free confidential HIV screenings for anyone upon request. Call 601-582-2619 for more information about the Ryan White program.”
In addition to those services, we also have special initiatives for pregnant women. Many pregnant women are unaware that they can receive free child care when going to a SeMRHI doctor for their checkups. A healthy pregnancy that goes along as planned is important for a healthy baby.
Speaking of babies, Dr. Dyse said SeMRHI works with 22 schools in the area to perform well-child checkups “for all children regardless of ability to pay.”
Dr. Dyse said when they reviewed the data for children in Mississippi who received well-child checkups and noticed the low checkup numbers, “we said okay, we can help increase the number of checkups by going where the children are, the schools.” We believe that children learn better when they are healthy. It’s a great way to provide preventive care, such as identifying vision problems or low iron levels.
Plenty of Clinics for All Your Health Needs
SeMRHI offers 17 clinics in and around Hattiesburg, including one dental clinic. SeMRHI’s healthcare model is intended to offer patients what is known as “Patient-Centered Medical Homes.” That means patients can go to one spot and receive all of their healthcare treatment or referrals, including referrals to a specialist.
SeMRHI serves eight cities across the Pine Belt, including New Augusta, Seminary, Sumrall, Lumberton, Picayune, Beaumont, Brooklyn, and Hattiesburg.
“Patients can come to our clinics, and we guide them through the process of obtaining healthcare, whether it is primary care, dental, vision, or women’s health. We are a door keeper, and we can refer them to specialists,” Dr. Dyse said. “Everybody needs a primary care physician. We are the gatekeepers to other places, specialists they need to see. We have patient care coordinators who remind our patients about their appointments.”
This model of healthcare is known as a “Patient Centered Medical Home.” “The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recognizes that revitalizing the Nation’s primary care system is foundational to achieving high-quality, accessible, efficient healthcare for all Americans,” the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services touts on its website. “The primary care medical home, also referred to as the patient centered medical home (PCMH), advanced primary care, and the healthcare home, is a promising model for transforming the organization and delivery of primary care.”
There is also a pharmacy at SeMRHI where patients can get their medications filled at a low cost. Medication assistance clerks help patients complete the necessary paperwork for reduced-cost prescriptions. Primary medical services offered include immunizations, treatment for minor injuries, diagnostic labs, X-rays, referrals, mammogram referrals, nutrition education, and annual checkups.
The Women’s Health Center offers full prenatal and perinatal care. The Hattiesburg Community Dental Center provides general dentistry, X-rays, cleanings, exams, and cavity treatment.
Dr. Dyse said sometimes people hear that SeMRHI does not have “real doctors” or that they won’t get the same quality of care that they may get somewhere else, which isn’t at all true. SeMRHI employs board-certified physicians and nurse practitioners as well as “three great dentists,” including one that goes out into the schools to conduct screening exams and two that staff the dental clinic.
“We also now have an optometrist we contract with that offers general optometry,” Dr. Dyse said. “We have a contract with Walmart where our patients can get contacts or eyeglasses at a reduced rate. Optometry is the newest addition to our services.”
Why Staying Healthy Is Your Personal Responsibility
Whether it’s being treated for the common cold or HIV, getting medical care when you are sick is a personal responsibility for everyone. We need to keep our communities healthy by keeping everyone healthy to prevent the spread of diseases.
Across Mississippi, Community Health Centers operate in 21 clusters like SeMRHI spread over 190 sites. More than 330,000 Mississippians had their healthcare needs met this way in 2014, with SeMRHI providing care to more than 10 percent of them.
SeMRHI receives what is called a “330 Grant”—federal funding intended to help serve populations on the margins of healthcare. While not everyone qualifies for the discounted sliding fee scale, many do; however, SeMRHI cares for patients from all walks of life and accepts all payer sources.
“Community Health Centers improve access to preventive and primary care, we reduce healthcare disparities, we provide healthcare in a cost-effective way, and we also create jobs and stimulate the economy,” Dr. Dyse said. “We employ 225 people.”
SeMRHI also follows the meaningful use and patient center medical home quality improvement initiatives, “They are not just run through like cattle,” Dr. Dyse said. “Whether through primary care services, specialty care services, or our pharmacy services, our main goal as SeMRHI is to provide people the healthcare and resources they need because everyone deserves access to affordable, quality healthcare.”
For more information on Southeast Mississippi Rural Health Initiative, Inc., visit www.semrhi.com, or call 601-545-8700 to find the outreach enrollment worker nearest you.
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