Oxford — The Southeastern Conference has a new member — Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi. The hospital recently formed a partnership with the University of Mississippi (UM) athletics department to provide comprehensive healthcare for its student-athletes.
According to Baptist-North Mississippi, the partnership is a first of its kind for Mississippi.
Pete Boone, Ole Miss athletics director, said, “We are excited about entering a partnership with Baptist-North Mississippi and their professional staff. Our partnership enhances our ability to provide high-quality healthcare for our student-athletes.”
“Athletic training is an allied healthcare profession, and this relationship with Baptist-North Mississippi further aligns us with a quality healthcare team,” said Shannon Singletary, associate athletics director of sports medicine at Ole Miss. “This relationship allows us to provide advanced healthcare technology in all areas, including diagnostic services, surgery and specialized rehabilitation for all our student-athletes.”
Zach Chandler, administrator and CEO of Baptist-North Mississippi, said he was impressed with UM “continuously building on the rich foundation of the past by expanding the healthcare services offered to each of their student-athletes. We want to provide a full spectrum of care to keep all of their student-athletes as healthy as possible.”
The agreement calls for Baptist-North Mississippi to conduct pre-participation physicals for all Ole Miss student-athletes, as well as on-site physical therapy services. The hospital has donated an imaging machine to the university and a radiology technician to operate it.
In addition, Baptist-North Mississippi will provide behavioral health, nutrition, laboratory and other services athletes need. And the hospital will provide continuing education on such topics as first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation and advanced cardiac life support for the Ole Miss athletic training staff.
Baptist-North Mississippi has hired additional staff to handle the new UM caseload. And while the Ole Miss training staff will man the sidelines, Baptist personnel will be behind the scenes at the venue, providing services in real game time. Injured athletes will be treated at Baptist-North Mississippi.
The UM-Baptist contract is on a year-to-year basis.
Singletary, who arrived at UM only last March, was the one who initiated the concept of a Baptist partnership. Singletary’s career was varied before coming to Ole Miss, including a stint as director of sports medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. But it was Singletary’s service as athletic trainer at Provine High School in Jackson that was the root of the Baptist-North Mississippi partnership.
“These were top-flight athletes from the inner city. It was shocking to me just how little access these kids had to healthcare,” Singletary said.
When Singletary arrived at UM, the impact of his Provine experience was still felt and he saw an immediate need for more comprehensive, accessible healthcare for the approximately 490 UM student-athletes. He had a short time frame to work with, but he didn’t have to start from scratch.
“Athletic departments partnering with hospitals is a growing trend,” Singletary said. “The University of Georgia was the first school in the SEC to work out a partnership like this one. I modeled our partnership with Baptist-North Mississippi after Georgia’s agreement.”
Both Singletary and Chandler said the partnership improves healthcare access, eliminating the barrier of travel, a significant obstacle for many student-athletes far from home. UM student-athletes can now receive healthcare services in Oxford.
Those needs are varied, too. Not only will the partnership provide such basic services as nutrition and laboratory work, which could lead to the early detection of such maladies as cycle cell anemia or diabetes, it can also help student-athletes deal with the pressures of performing in the competitive, big-time league of the Southeastern Conference.
As Singletary pointed out, student-athlete’s healthcare needs are different from sport to sport. The Baptist partnership is truly comprehensive, covering the gamut of needs for all sports disciplines, male and female. If that offers UM athletes an advantage on the field, fine. But Singletary said his measure of success is not found in the box scores.
“I want our coaches to be able to walk into parents’ living rooms and be able to tell them that while at Ole Miss, they’re children will receive the best healthcare available,” Singletary said. “I don’t gauge success by wins and losses. If a student-athlete leaves Ole Miss healthy, that’s a victory.”
Chandler could not discount the positive PR from being the provider of healthcare services to Ole Miss, a member of the prestigious Southeastern Conference. But he said his thrill comes from the outreach of the program and its proactive efforts.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to take our services outside of our doors. We see this as community outreach,” he said. “In the past, a lot of the healthcare services for student-athletes were reactive. This plan is proactive. It looks to keep the student-athletes healthy — preventative medicine. It’s very satisfying to be a part of that.”
Baptist-North Mississippi is a 217-bed hospital that employs approximately 1,000 healthcare professionals and has a medical staff of more than 80 individuals. The hospital offers a number of services, including radiation therapy, neurosurgery and open-heart surgery. In 2003, the hospital wrapped up a $37-million construction project that included a new emergency department and state-of-the-art surgery suites.
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.