The Mississippi Department of Health has been less than enthusiastic about some of the responsibilities the legislature has assigned to it recently.
The Department of Health did not want to take over the regulation of medical marijuana, and it has been criticized for taking too long to license growers and processors and issue medical cards to eligible patients.
Recently, she indicated that she did not want to settle the battle between two Jackson hospitals over which one would be designated the next burn center in the state, even though that was the legislature’s intention when it transferred the job to the Health Department.
In the case of medical marijuana, the answer is probably that the liability involved more work than the health department had people to deal with.
Dan Edney, the state health official whose administration falls under him, told the Greenwood League of Voters last week that his agency has been crippled by a lack of funding. During the last legislative session, he said, he pleaded unsuccessfully for 100 more nurses to deal with the lingering issues of COVID-19, the recent rise in syphilis cases that put newborns at risk of dying, and the crisis of rural hospitals that have scaled back. Access to healthcare services in places like the Delta.
As a result of these and other priorities, the health department has been slow to increase its staffing capacity to handle medical marijuana. At one point, the office overseeing the program had only four employees. Requests from patients that were supposed to take 30 days to process sometimes took twice as long.
Recently, the legislature tightened the turnaround time, mandating that applications be completed within 10 days. The Health Ministry has added staff and hired contractors to try to comply, but Edney has publicly acknowledged that the 10-day requirement is not realistic at the moment.
For a burn center, this is not a personnel issue but a political issue.
After Mississippi’s only burn center closed in October, two hospitals said they were ready to fill the void — Mississippi Baptist Medical Center and University of Mississippi Medical Center. They both wanted the $4 million that the legislature was willing to put toward the next arson, and they both had friends in the legislature pushing on their side.
Lawmakers struck a wise compromise, agreeing to pay the money but delegating to the health department the responsibility of determining which hospital is best suited to carry out the task over the long term.
Or at least that’s what those who compromised thought they did.
However, the health department does not read legislation in the same way as those who wrote it.
Earlier this month, the department determined that UMMC had the qualifications to specialize in treating patients with severe and disfiguring burns. A Baptist application for a similar certification is still pending.
“We don’t expect it to decide which application is more deserving,” a spokeswoman for the Department of Health said.
Liz Charlotte responded to Mississippi Today in an email.
This sounds like a hot potato that no one wants, but the health department should keep it, even if it requires clarifying the law about who gets to do what.
Lawmakers do not have the expertise to determine which hospital has the best doctors, the best training and the best facilities to deal with traumatic burn injuries. If that decision is returned to them, the outcome will likely depend on which hospital has the best political connections.
It will serve neither patients nor taxpayers.
– Contact Tim Kalich at 662-581-7243 or [email protected].