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Org working to remedy region

Delta Health Alliance fighting obesity, improving farm safety

Located in the heart of an 18-county area, the Delta Health Alliance in Stoneville is dedicated to making health and life better for residents of the Mississippi Delta. The 501(c)3 non-profit organization was created in 2001 with the state’s universities as collaborating partners.

Under the leadership of Dr. Cass Pennington, CEO, the Alliance has 28 projects that fall into three categories: access to healthcare, research to learn what works in the Delta and education about healthy habits.

“The Delta Health Alliance is the coordinating body for these projects, and all of them are being well received by the communities,” he said. “Our mission is to advocate, develop and implement collaborative programs to improve the health of citizens here.”

Dr. Karen C. Fox, chief operating officer, says diabetes education has been the organization’s flagship project and has been in operation for five years in this area where there’s a high incidence of the disease. However, more programs are being added to strengthen the healthy message to residents.

Numbers don’t lie

One of the latest is Mississippi in Motion, a concept borrowed from outside the Delta. It’s patterned after a successful effort in West Point where approximately 1,000 community members participated and collectively lost more than 6,000 pounds. In a test program in Washington County in the Delta, 341 participants lost 673 pounds over eight weeks.

“We, the people of the Delta, are overweight. The numbers show it,” Fox said. “Obese and overweight persons are at high risk for illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes and stroke. A recent survey revealed that over 60% of people say they are either overweight or obese, and almost one-third said they had not exercised within 30 days prior to the survey.”

The program is in partnership with the Mississippi State University (MSU) Extension Service and is all about lifestyle, beginning with a 12-week peer-reviewed educational promotion of healthier lifestyles to establish habits that incorporate fitness and nutrition. It is low cost or free of charge and uses a team/support group approach.

“Participants will be encouraged to increase their intake of fruits and vegetables, increase exercise and attend seven out of 10 educational sessions of the program,” Fox said.

Connecting clinics

Another new program is one that will file health records electronically throughout the Delta and at the University of Mississippi Medical Center to increase the continuity of care. The program will connect more than 500 physicians and is funded by a grant from Allscripts, a provider of clinical software, connectivity and information solutions.

“We have a dire healthcare situation in the Mississippi Delta, and this technology will help address many of the issues we face,” Pennington said. “Allscripts will help our providers in urban settings and remote areas of the Delta communicate with each other and get the clinical information they need to provide the best care for their patients, many of whom have multiple chronic conditions and are seen by multiple providers who may be hundreds of miles apart.”

Fox says hardware for the program is being set up and area physicians will be put on the system in the fall of this year. “There are fewer doctors in the Delta and they’re spread out, making it difficult to get around and transfer information,” she said. “Now the doctors will have something to help them.”

The Delta Health Alliance has a strong program of agro medicine as befits the area’s ties to the land. Project director Ricky Boggan said the program is actively involved in promoting fewer agriculture accidents and chronic diseases that affect farm workers and their families.

“We’re excited about it and want to expand it beyond safety,” he said. “The number of accidents is down, but farm accidents are usually not minor accidents. They are big and catastrophic, unfortunately. With mechanization of farming, there are fewer workers and they operate a lot of equipment.”

The Alliance also partnered with MSU to research the possibility of a rollover tractor. Workshops are being held to educate farm workers and focus groups are being set up in communities across the Alliance’s 18-county area.

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

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