Healthcare advocates in Mississippi calling for a review of personnel and operational matters relating to the State Department of Health will have to wait a little longer.
As this issue of the Mississippi Business Journal went to press, Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, who has been absent for medical reasons for several weeks, had not yet made PEER committee appointments for the Senate. The regular legislative session ended May 9. New PEER Committee members normally are appointed in January. House Speaker Billy McCoy (D-Rienzi) made PEER Committee appointments the same day he announced committee assignments.
“We finally worked out a bill to expand the PEER committee (from five) to seven members, like the legislative budget committee,” said Sen. Jack Gordon, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. “A conference report has been filed for concurrence from the House. Lt. Gov. Tuck was in the process of getting ready to make those appointments and she`s expected to make those appointments by the end of session, even from home. She`s keeping up with what`s going on.”
The vocal group representing former and current state health department employees, healthcare practitioners in the state and the Mississippi division of the AARP, the nation`s largest senior citizen organization, has said it would like to see priority issues addressed including the current composition of the Mississippi State Board of Health, organizational charts that show a top-heavy department with increased administrative costs coupled with a significant loss of field service employees, a review of current executive director Brian Amy, M.D., the status of the PEER Committee investigation and the lack of adequate healthcare services for Mississippians.
“Gov. Barbour has heard from several people throughout the state that have had concerns – people who used to work in public health, people that use their services,” said Jim Perry, director of policy for the governor. “He`s also heard from a lot of people who have had good things to say about the Department of Health. Part of being governor is hearing all sides of the story.”
At the April state health board meeting, officers were elected, with terms beginning in July. Larry Calvert, a pharmacist from Gulfport, was elected chairman. His term ends June 30, unless Barbour reappoints him. Mary Kim Smith, R.N., whose husband is Rep. Clayton Smith (R-Brandon), was elected vice-chairman.
“Larry`s term is due to run out June 30, but several people have contacted the Governor`s Office and we’ve requested the governor reappoint him,” said R.A. Foxworth, D.C., chairman of the health board. “Whether or not he`ll do that, we don`t know. We hope he`ll be reappointed, but if not, Mary Smith could slide into that role and we would elect another vice-chair or the board could have another round of elections. We’ve run into this before. It`s nothing unusual or out of the norm. It wouldn`t affect the function of the board or the day-to-day running of the department.”
Foxworth said the governor would need to make appointments soon.
“I don`t remember the head count, but we don`t have any vacancies as a result of the appointments not being made,” he said. “We have contacted the governor to let him know that we do have five slots coming up before the July meeting.”
Perry said Barbour would announce his appointees to the state health board at the appropriate time.
“Right now, we’re not looking at the governor`s agenda after the regular session ends, we’re focusing on the agenda for this session,” he said.
Amy has also been criticized for the department`s high employee turnover rate since he took over the post in October 2002. Among those departing, last month, Peter Fos, a Tulane professor Amy brought in to fill the newly created position of chief science officer for $112,500 per year, was named dean of the Southern Miss College of Health.
“Dr. Amy has absolutely kept the board apprised of his moves,” said Foxworth. “As a matter of fact, when Dr. Amy came in, that`s what he was expected to do. He was to look at the department and find what changes needed to be made, if any. He has the latitude to do what he needs to do to have the department running the way it should. He`s got the full support and confidence of the board. There are some very innovative things that are going on with the department that haven`t been done previously. Certainly there are people who are resistant to change, as you may well imagine both current and former employees, but the changes have been good.”
At press time, Amy could not be reached for comments for this story.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org.