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Mississippi will no longer have a burn center

Gov. Haley Barbour will accept a recommendation from a commission he appointed last year to study burn care issues for burn patients in the state following the closure of the Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center at Delta Regional Medical Center in Greenville.

Mississippi will now join seven other states in the country with no dedicated burn center for their residents, which includes Delaware, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Wyoming.

This recommendation from the Governor’s Burn Care Advisory Group appointed June 9, 2005, was presented December 30, 2005, in a report titled “The Status of Critical Care for Burn Victims In Mississippi.” Dr. Brian W. Amy, state health officer with the Mississippi Department of Health, chaired the advisory group. At press time, Amy had not returned calls to comment for this story.

The group was tasked with making recommendations “concerning the treatment of burn victims in Mississippi.”

The final recommendation in the report stated that: “Stakeholders and policy makers should explore options to provide sufficient funding for the uncompensated care of severely burned Mississippians or alternatively provide health care benefit coverage for uninsured victims rather than investing directly in a burn care facility at this time.

“Such a policy would insure that all severely burned Mississippians benefit from public support of burn care. The health care marketplace can be expected to respond with infrastructure to support a medical service for which compensation is reasonable.”

Since December the report has been in the hands of the governor with no specific action taken on the issue. However, Pete Smith, press secretary for Barbour’s office said June 19 that “the governor put together a commission to study the burn center. That commission met and gave the governor a report at the end of last year. The governor is going to accept the recommendation of the commission.”

The report goes on to state that: “The volume of severely burned patients in Mississippi is not sufficient to adequately fund the development ($10-$20 million) and operation ($8-$10 million per year) of a specialized burn center primarily because of the cost of uncompensated care.

“Current funding challenges for health care in Mississippi (chronically under funded state trauma system, Medicaid, uncompensated health care, rebuilding health care infrastructure following Hurricane Katrina and financial preparation for the Pandemic Influenza Epidemic) greatly diminish the feasibility of establishing a burn center in Mississippi at this time.”

What this means is that burn patients in the state will continue to be transported and treated at burn center facilities out-of-state located primarily in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Tennessee.

On June 1, 2005, Delta Regional Medical Center stopped accepting critically burned patients at the Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center located adjacent to the hospital. The 16-bed burn center was converted immediately to accommodate a critical care unit.

Burn care services were discontinued by the hospital’s board of directors and L. Ray Humphreys, FACHE, CEO of Delta Regional for both financial reasons and the inability to obtain proper and adequate coverage for patients following the departure of one of the two surgeons on staff.

The burn center started in 1970 as a burn care specialty unit within the hospital with construction completed in 1982 on the current 16-bed facility.

Humphreys said that the burn center has treated an average of 250 inpatients per year with an average annual operating cost of inpatient service only of around $7 million with another $3 million annually allocated to the burn unit as indirect ancillary costs of the medical center. Outpatient services were provided to an average of 2,400 patients per year. Over the years, the burn center has incurred annual operating losses of upwards of $3 million, which has ultimately been covered by the taxpayers of Washington County. Losses were the direct result of the high cost of burn care and the staggering amount of uncompensated healthcare, said Humphreys.

In May 2005, the Legislature passed Senate Bill 2067, then signed by the Barbour June 17, which amended statutes to immediately cease public funding directed to the Delta Regional Medical Center for burn care. The bill required that public funding and donations for burn care be directed to the Mississippi Burn Care Fund maintained in the state treasury and administered by the Mississippi Department of Health. The Mississippi Burn Care Fund is restricted for use to assist with payment for burn care of indigent Mississippi burn victims, which meet American Burn Association criteria for admission to any authorized burn center.

State Rep. John Hines of Greenville, has been watching the burn center issue carefully, and is not pleased with either the recommendation of the advisory group or the lack of a dedicated burn center in the state. “We should do better for the people of the State of Mississippi,” said Hines. “Now we have to send all of our burn patients out-of-state for treatment. That just shouldn’t be.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer David Lush at dlldelta000@yahoo.com.

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