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Facilities, programs, services focus on health issues

Women are different from men, and their healthcare needs are different. A focus on women’s healthcare has been evolving for several years around the state with specialized centers, facilities and services that follow a national trend.

Memorial Hospital at Gulfport has always had women’s services but really focused on them in 1987 when the Memorial Women and Children’s Services Center was opened. “We recognized that women are the caregivers and decision makers in healthcare,” said Irene Brown, the center’s director. “That was also when nationally it was realized that women’s health and the way they respond to illnesses are different from men.”

At first, the center mostly provided information and education but over the last 10 years services have been formalized. Brown said the hospital looked at women’s services throughout the organization to decide how each group can provide the best care during women’s entire life spans with a whole packet of strategies.

Currently, Memorial has the Coast’s only functioning neonatal intensive care unit. It was begun 10 years ago to eliminate the hardship on sick babies and their families of transporting them out of state for treatment. Memorial also developed a ground transport system to stabilize infants and bring them to the intensive care unit from outlying areas.

“We belong to an international information database of over 400 facilities, and our survival rate for infants is high compared to these other facilities,” Brown said. “That shows the impact that our unit has had on the Coast.”

A breast-feeding center was developed at Memorial in response to community need. It’s part of the Healthy People 2010 Initiative sponsored by the National Centers for Disease Control.

Memorial’s Women’s Center has added to the quality of care for female patients by implementing digital mammography, a system that is a much better diagnostic tool. It provides a yearly education program to provide coupons to help ensure more women participate. Also, they work with disabled women to give them accurate information on screening facilities equipped for handicapped patients. Last year, Memorial partnered with the Brett Farve Foundation to raise funds to provide care for needy breast cancer patients.

The Emma B. Holmes Women’s Center opened at Southwest Mississippi Regional Medical Center in McComb in 1993. It provides labor and delivery facilities and a floor for gynecological and pediatric services.

“It was a change to a family-center environment and has been well received by the community,” said Beth Alford, nurse manager of labor and delivery. “That’s the trend nationwide — to keep the family unit together. It helps with healthcare teaching to have them together.”

The Birth Place at Baptist opened in 1990 in Jackson. It has a staff of 150 people and a long list of specialties and services that includes education such as sibling and grandparenting classes. But that’s just part of the product line Baptist Health Systems has for women’s services, according to spokesman Robbie Channel.

“Our research shows that women make most of a family’s healthcare decisions, about 70%,” he said. “A lot of women are seeking healthcare needs and putting our plethora of services under one product line makes it a concise way to promote them.”

He said research also led Baptist to focus on three primary concerns — heart, women and cancer. They offer low-cost screenings with three different packages to follow up with results. There are ongoing seminars dealing with various subjects, too.

Since women also do most of the family’s shopping, a partnership with Northpark Mall has proven beneficial to women’s health. Baptist hosts seminars at the mall, provides information booths/exhibits and jointly sponsors special events.

“Looking at the research, the partnership made sense,” Channel said. “We know all our women’s programs have had a huge impact on the community as evidenced by the comments we had during the balloon drop at Northpark. They told us we’re doing a good job with free and low-cost heart, osteo, thyroid and cancer screenings. Those are the primary screenings although we do have others.”

He said Baptist Health Systems hopes to make its Web site a resource for healthcare for everyone, along with its help line that is currently operated Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. That number is 800-948-6262.

The Center of Excellence in Women’s Health at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson is one of only 19 such centers across the nation. The designation is awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This center is comprised of five key components: clinical care, research, community outreach, professional education and leadership. Dr. Annette Low, an associate professor of medicine, is the director of the staff whose primary goal is to improve the health and lives of women in the state. “We firmly believe that by doing so, the health and lives of the families in our state will improve,” she said. “Truly, healthy women will build a strong Mississippi.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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