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Health officials trying to save jobs

JACKSON — Top officials at the Mississippi State Department of Health say they’re trying to prevent layoffs for 41 employees and 41 contract workers who were part of a program to help women with high-risk pregnancies.

Dr. Mary Currier, the state health officer, said Friday that the social workers were told April 15 their jobs could be eliminated July 1.

The 82 people were among 187 who worked for a program to help women with high-risk pregnancies. In December, the program was moved out of the Health Department and into a managed-care program that’s under the Division of Medicaid.

More than 100 of the employees who had worked for the high-risk pregnancy program were moved into other Health Department jobs, Currier said.

But the Health Department had no other duties for the 82 social workers.

Currier said it’s possible the high-risk pregnancy program will be moved back to the Health Department before July 1. If that happens, the 82 jobs would be saved, she said.

Some lawmakers said Friday they had received calls from constituents worried about Health Department layoffs. A group of House members called Currier to the Capitol so she could explain what’s happening.

Currier said she had spoken earlier in the day to the Division of Medicaid executive director, Dr. David J. Dzielak, about the possibility of moving the high-risk pregnancy program back to the Health Department.

Medicaid spokeswoman Erin Barham confirmed in a separate interview that leaders of the two agencies are talking.

Mississippi had the highest infant mortality rate in the nation in 2011, according to the most recent national figures available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Mississippi Health Department and the Division of Medicaid had worked together on the high-risk pregnancy program since the program was started years ago, Currier said.

The program has covered about 3,500 women and 2,500 infants a year, she said. Currier said workers try to ensure pregnant women in the program go to their prenatal doctor visits and that new mothers take babies for checkups.

Dr. Jason Dees is president and CEO of Magnolia Health Plan, one of the two companies with managed care contracts for Mississippi Medicaid. He said in a phone interview Friday that the company takes several steps to help patients who have high-risk pregnancies, including providing information about nutrition, prenatal care and health care for infants.

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