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4/22/16 - Mississippi State, UMMC launch health disparities partnership

Mississippi State officials welcomed colleagues from the University of Mississippi Medical Center to campus last Monday morning [April 18] for the launch of a new initiative tackling many of the state’s most critical health care challenges.

“Spring is in the air, and partnerships are in the air,” said David Shaw, the vice president for research and economic development at MSU.

Mississippi State President Mark E. Keenum, right, and University of Mississippi Medical Center Vice Chancellor for Health Affairs Dr. LouAnn Woodward signed a Memorandum of Understanding to formalize a partnership addressing many of the state’s most critical health care challenges. Looking on is Dr. Bettina Beech, UMMC’s associate vice chancellor for population health and executive director of the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities, which is working to expand existing collaborations and pursuing new opportunities between these higher education institutions. PHOTO: Megan Bean | Public Affairs

The new partnership among Mississippi State, the Medical Center and the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities at UMMC will expand significantly a number of ongoing collaborative projects and seek new opportunities, according to officials.

“We are committed to following in Myrlie Evers-Williams footsteps and her lifelong commitment to improve the lives of Mississippians,” said Dr. Bettina Beech, UMMC’s associate vice chancellor for population health and the executive director of the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities.

The institute addresses the social determinants of health through the following areas of focus: child health disparities, HIV/AIDS disparities, minority male health disparities and cancer health disparities. In 2014, Myrlie Evers-Williams, widow of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers, lent her name to the institute. Dr. Tonya Moore represented the Evers family at the ceremony.

In the Hunter Henry Center’s Parker Ballroom, Mississippi State President Mark E. Keenum and Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at UMMC, signed a memorandum of understanding formalizing the partnership in front of a standing-room only audience.

Keenum noted that Woodward -- who graduated from MSU with a bachelor of science degree in microbiology -- is the first Bulldog to lead UMMC.

“I am especially pleased to see our two organizations coming together in this partnership,” Woodward said.

The new initiative will build on long-standing relationships between UMMC and MSU researchers, “and opens the door to expand in such a major way -- allowing us to build a model that will hopefully be a national model,” she said.

The state of Mississippi faces a number of well-documented health-related issues: obesity, diabetes, and access and care disparities, among them.

“We know that there is power in partnerships, and we look forward to melding the efforts of our two institutions to achieve more on behalf of Mississippi’s most disadvantaged citizens than we could hope to achieve separately,” Keenum said.

Examples of existing MSU-UMMC collaboration include:

-- For nearly two decades, the MSU Extension Service and UMMC have and continue to prepare aspiring physicians for primary care service in rural communities through the Rural Medical Scholars Program for rising high school seniors.

-- The collaboration between UMMC’s Department of Pediatrics and MSU’s Social Science Research Center (SSRC), particularly the Family & Children Research Unit (FCRU), has resulted in multiple collaborations targeting health, education and mental health issues among Mississippi’s young children.

-- MSU’s Department of Sociology is leading an asset mapping project examining childhood obesity and human capital throughout Mississippi’s 82 counties.

-- Currently, the SSRC has a major grant proposal to a private foundation through which both the SSRC and pediatric researchers will collaborate to track the education and health determinants of children’s well-being, with a particular focus upon developmental screenings and referrals, in building upon earlier research.

-- MSU Extension and UMMC are partners in the delivery of the Community Health Advocate curriculum through the 4-H Junior Master Wellness Volunteer Program. Extension specialists and agents work with allied health teachers to integrate CHA training into their curriculum and assist with community outreach and provide opportunities for students to participate in competitions using the skills they learn.

-- In October, the SSRC and UMMC are co-hosting a visit by the president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, who will visit both campuses.

Dr. Rick deShazo, UMMC’s Billy S. Guyton Distinguished Professor and professor of medicine and pediatrics, and a host for “Southern Remedy” on Mississippi Public Broadcasting, delivered the keynote address in which he discussed the history of health disparities in Mississippi.

“While today’s celebration is about where we are going, we must understand where we have been,” Shaw said in thanking deShazo, who also led an afternoon roundtable discussion with students enrolled in Mississippi State’s pre-med program.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at

Jim Laird | Public Affairs

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