Editorial Roundup: Mississippi

Columbus Dispatch. September 14, 2023.

Editorial: Scholarship program is one answer in recruiting, retaining rural doctors

During Tuesday’s Columbus Rotary Club meeting, Wahnee Sherman, executive director of the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarshi p program, noted that since its inception in 2007, the program has produced 100 physicians who have agreed to work in rural areas. MRPS provides a $35,000 per year scholarship to each medical school student in the program. Those students are placed in residencies in rural hospitals — classified as having less than 10,000 people in their service area. After they graduate, they must agree to spend four years working at a rural hospital or clinic in Mississippi.

Of the 100 participants, 70 physicians are still in practice in rural areas. This year, the program has 61 students in residencies and 85 students in medical school.

The state has spent $2 million on the program to date and the numbers prove the program works.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the need for physicians in rural areas of our state far exceeds what the MRPS, at its current level of funding, can provide.

Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its annual infant mortality rate, and the news is discouraging. Mississippi’s infant mortality rate surged from 8.1infant deaths per 1,000 live births in 2022’s release to 9.4 in the 2023 release—a 16% spike. The national rate remained constant at 5.4%.Mississippi’s infant mortality rate is higher than that of Libya, Kazakhstan, Thailand, Malaysia and Sri Lanka, among others.

It’s likely that access to care, especially in rural areas, is the leading driver of these grim statistics. According to a March of Dimes study more than half of Mississippi’s 82 counties are considered “maternity care deserts,” defined as a county that has no hospitals providing obstetric care, no birth centers, no OB/GYN and no certified nurse midwives.

Noxubee County is a maternity care desert. So is Winston County.

Infant mortality is just one area of health care. Our state struggles in many other areas of health care, and it may get worse.

In addition to OB/GYNs, the MRPS channels scholars into family medicine, pediatrics, medical pediatrics and general internal medicine.

A report by the Center for Healthcare Quality of Payment Reform, shows 33 of the state’s rural hospitals (45%) are at risk of closing and 24 (32%) are at immediate risk of closing.

Put it together and a portrait of a state whose health care system is teetering on the brink of failure emerges. Meanwhile, our state legislature is sitting on a $3.9 billion budget surplus.

Expanding programs such as MRPS is certainly a good use of those funds. Given the reality of the situation, $2 million is merely a drop in the bucket.


Greenwood Commonwealth. September 14, 2023.

Editorial: Alabama Fights Supreme Court

For once, thankfully, some other state besides Mississippi has decided to challenge federal law when it comes to minorities and voting.

This time, Alabama has decided to be the poster child for muleheadedness. Three months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the state’s congressional map was a likely violation of the Voting Rights Act.

Only one of the state’s seven districts was drawn with a Black majority in a state where 26% of the residents are Black. The Supreme Court upheld the ruling of another panel of three judges, who said in 2022 that the state needs two Black-majority districts.

But, mystifyingly, the Alabama Legislature declined to comply — perhaps because, in a closely divided Congress, it doesn’t want to give up a Republican seat in favor of a Democrat.

In July, the Legislature approved new districts that kept one black-majority congressional seat and increased the Black population of a second district to 40%. Charitably, the odds of any Black candidate winning a congressional election in a district with a white majority are long.

The three-judge panel’s response was to take over the redistricting work itself instead of giving the Legislature “a second bite at the apple.”

“We are not aware of any other case in which a state legislature — faced with a federal court order declaring that its electoral plan unlawfully dilutes minority votes and requiring a plan that provides an additional opportunity district — responded with a plan that the state concedes does not provide that district,” the judges wrote in a Sept. 5 order.

Alabama officials say the new districts comply with both the Voting Rights Act and this year’s Supreme Court decision. They contend that the high court did not require a second Black-majority district if it violated “traditional redistricting principles, such as keeping communities of interest together.”

Admittedly, the Supreme Court ruling against Alabama was a surprise because two conservative justices, along with the three liberals, agreed with the three-judge panel that the state’s congressional map did not pass the test of the Voting Rights Act.

But just as much of a surprise: Two members of the three-judge panel got appointed to the bench by Donald Trump.