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Taste of the U celebrates 20th anniversary

The extras are often the first to go in a struggling economy but, it’s the extras which often make the biggest difference. Just ask Matt Gatlin, an intensive care nurse at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

“My home is in Hattiesburg, my family is there and my girls go to school there,” said Gatlin. “But, I wanted experience with more complex cases and a chance to further my career at a top-notch teaching facility, the Alliance made that possible.”

The UMMC Alliance is an auxiliary support group tasked with fundraising efforts. The 501 (c) (3) is a qualified tax exempt organization whose mission it is to make the seemingly impossible, possible.

Gatlin who use to make the nearly two-hour commute or spend money at a local hotel, serves on the retention and recruitment committee at UMMC. He and his colleagues approached the Alliance about ways to make the commute more affordable and safer for employees traveling more than an hour’s distance. Enter the idea for the Nightingale Inn which houses up to fifteen commuting nurses from around the state right there on campus.

“It has all the comforts of home, it’s welcoming and safe,” continued Gatlin. “Staying here means I can focus on my job when I’m here and my family when I’m home. There’s an overwhelming gratefulness which makes us more dedicated, more loyal employees. The caring nature of our staff is reflected in our interaction with our patients, it outweighs anything I’ve ever seen and I believe that’s because of employee satisfaction.”

For the past 20 years the work done by the Alliance provides all the things which a stretched budget can’t cover; like Christmas parties for pediatric patients, outings for children on ventilators, a wellness center for students and temporary financial assistance for nursing students. The Taste of the U is their major annual fundraiser held this weekend at the Jackson Medical Mall with a projected goal of $100,000. This year the honorees are University of Mississippi Chancellor Dr. Dan Jones and his wife, Lydia.

The diverse array of cultures represented throughout the UMMC family is reflected in the event’s cuisine. Revelers have an opportunity to sample gourmet offerings from around the world.

Ticket holders can take a trip with their plate to Latin America, Russia, Africa, India or China to name a few. Cooking teams enjoy friendly competition while raising money for a cause very close to their hearts.

“It’s like the difference between a house and a home,” said this year’s co-chair Celeste Eason. “The services and items provided by these funds puts the care in healthcare. It’s the Christmas decorations that cheer up patients who are bound to a hospital during a holiday, a sick child who has a chance to take a rare field trip, a place of prayer for those who need hope. While those things may seem small, they are not. It colors an employee’s or a patient’s entire experience here at the Medical Center.”

Administrators say the funds also supply the state’s only teaching hospital with a competitive edge. The FY ’10 total operating budget for UMMC is $997M (only 17 percent of which comes from the state), much less than many of their Southeastern competitors, including both teaching and private facilities. It is a creative way, particularly amid a national nursing shortage, to get a jump on attracting practitioners from Brookhaven, Vicksburg and Meridian which might otherwise cross state lines for employment. At the same time, the University can access additional staff during a crunch while the nurses are on campus. Likewise, nurses have computer access and an opportunity to take on-line advanced nursing classes during their off-time.

Taste of the U’s presenting sponsor, BancorpSouth believes money donated to this group is a smart investment. “UMMC is an economic driver for the entire state, as well as, Mississippi’s largest employer,” said Hinds County President Tommy Darnell. “Our ability to attract other businesses and to compete for national research programs depends on the strength of our medical center.”

For folks like Gatlin the return on investment is beyond measure. “I told my boss she’s got a lifer, I’m never leaving,” said Gatlin. “Everyone thinks I’m crazy to drive two hours but it’s worth it. It’s harder to drive 20 minutes when you’re not happy with your job.”

Tickets are $25 for the general public, $15 for students, interns and residents and $5 for children under twelve. Contact volunteer services at 601-984-2068. Anyone wishing to donate can go to www.alliance.umc.edu and click on ‘How to Give’.

About Liz Blankenship

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