Mississippi Health Policy Research Center filling a research void

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Published: August 21,2006

STARKVILLE –When John Bower’s Jackson-based kidney dialysis non-profit organization morphed into the nation’s leading provider of dialysis care, he found himself blessed with some extra cash.

Thanks to his financial success, Bower, a nephrologist who learned how to run an artificial kidney machine in the early 1960s under the tutelage of Dr. Belding Schribner in Seattle, Wash., a pioneer in chronic hemodialysis, established The Kidney Care Foundation, now called The Bower Foundation, to promote fundamental improvements in the health status of all Mississippians through the creation, expansion and support of quality healthcare initiatives.

Every year, Bower donates roughly $4 million to programs that fulfill the foundation’s mission and goals. One of his latest ventures: the Mississippi Health Policy Research Center (MHPRC), a university-level research center under the auspices of the Social Science Research Center (SSRC) at Mississippi State University (MSU).

The Bower Foundation partnered with SSRC to establish the MHPRC January 1, 2003, and provided the first two years of funding for the center’s infrastructure and several research projects. SSRC director Arthur G. Cosby led the charge on determining the clear need for health policy and health services research to inform policy decisions.

Among the center’s early activities: Dr. William Dietz, director of the Centers for Disease Control’s Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity in the Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, conducted the first Bower Seminar Series, “Obesity in Mississippi: Policy, Environmental, and Program Approaches” at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, from which Bower retired in 2000 as chief of the nephrology department.

Through state and federal grants and contracts, the Ridgeland-based center now has project funding exceeding $1.6 million.

“The Mississippi Health Policy Research Center delves into a wide range of important healthcare issues as the state’s only research center devoted to health policy issues,” explained MHPRC director Connie Baird-Thomas, who has served as project investigator for the evaluation of the school health nurse component of the Mississippi Tobacco Pilot Program, directed an evaluation of Mississippi’s Drug Free Schools and Communities Program, and contributed to projects with Mississippi’s Children’s Trust Fund, Mississippi Department of Human Services and the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services.

“The center is a multi-disciplinary unit and draws upon the experience of approximately 15 research scientists in the social sciences including sociology, psychology, economics, political science, demography,” she said. “Our primary goal is to conduct rigorous independent and objective policy research and policy research analysis with a specific focus on the Mississippi population that addresses issues of health, health services and health behaviors.”

MHPRC maintains contact with state agencies, advocacy groups and other stakeholders through quarterly meetings at the center, where Baird-Thomas shares information about ongoing research and gauges emerging issues and data needs so the center can be responsive to requests for information.

Baird-Thomas matches the expertise and interest of research scientists with stakeholders to develop health services and health policy research projects.

Through its affiliation with MSU, the MHPRC has access to more than 50 research fellows, a survey research laboratory, an evaluation and decision support laboratory, and full GIS capabilities. Areas of research include: tobacco, obesity, Medicaid issues, the uninsured, physician labor force, child oral health, underage drinking and driving, incarcerated youth and sexually transmitted diseases.

“We disseminate policy research information through a series of methods, including frequent releases of brief policy data sheets and policy data maps, white papers and web techniques,” explained Baird-Thomas. “We also distribute these products through an electronic distribution list. We’re a source of unbiased, objective data for stakeholders. We don’t take an advocacy position on any issue.”

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

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