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Bryant starts his new job reinforcing familiar themes

January 10th, 2012 No comments

Other than anecdotes about his family, there wasn’t much new in Gov. Phil Bryant’s inaugural address.

Like he has for most of the past four years, Bryant used his platform to talk economic issues: job-creation, education, the high cost of teenage pregnancy and his political pet project, performance-based budgeting.

The energy and healthcare industries, Bryant said, are two areas ripe for growth over the next decade-plus. The extraction and processing of natural gas, biofuels and clean coal can – and according to Bryant, will – help the state in its revolution from low-wage industrial haven to modern manufacturing empire.

Offering incentives for the healthcare industry, and bringing 1,000 new physicians to Mississippi by 2025, can turn the state’s metro areas and their medical corridors into burgeoning centers of medical power, Bryant said.

Having a stable of workers to fill those jobs will require a shift in thinking when it comes to public education, he said. Solutions don’t begin and end with funding, but will take redesigning curriculums to better serve students not on a college track, but headed for vocational employment, and a clearer path for charter schools to establish.

“When a Mississippian has a job, it changes absolutely everything,” Bryant said.

Bryant saved his strongest words for the state’s high teenage pregnancy rate, which has become as much of a Mississippi hallmark as the state’s musical and literary heritage.

“It must come to an end,” he said, adding that churches and other religious organizations have to partner with public institutions in reaching that end. “We can no longer turn our heads and pretend the problem doesn’t exist.”

Bryant compared the cultural change that would have to happen to do that to the one that has managed to eradicate smoking in nearly every public building and gathering spot in Mississippi, including the Capitol. He noted that a lot of folks 40 years ago would have filled the place with cigarette and cigar smoke during his address.

Obviously, Bryant’s plans will be met with a great deal of resistance in the Capitol, some from within his own party, but mostly from Democrats, who just watched their long-held power and influence all but evaporate.

Bryant’s Smart Budget Act, which bases agency funding on results achieved, is wildly popular with fiscal conservatives, but not with many agency heads, who cite the difficulty in tracking those results, not to mention the ease with which those results can be manipulated.

With a Republican-led Legislature, though, its passage is likely, if not guaranteed. The same goes for Bryant’s education reforms, though it’s worth noting the funding fight is likely to be as spirited as it’s ever been.

The wild card in that notion will be just how badly new legislative leadership – Speaker Phillip Gunn and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves – want to return Mississippi’s government to one in which lawmakers hold the majority of power.

Either way, the game is afoot.

UMMC lays off 115 employees

January 4th, 2012 No comments

University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson has just announced that it will reduce its workforce by 2 percent, by eliminating 90 vacant positions and laying off 115 employees.

That’s bad news for one of the state’s largest employers.

Here’s the full press release:

The University of Mississippi Medical Center is reducing the size of its workforce by approximately 115 employees today.

Coupled with a decision to not fill 90 vacant positions, the UMMC workforce will be about 2 percent smaller than it was at the end of 2011, according to Dr. James E. Keeton, vice chancellor for health affairs.

Keeton said a number of factors combined to cause the cutbacks in staffing, but the most compelling are the poor economy and the increase in uninsured and underinsured patients.  Weak economic conditions have dampened demand for clinical services and increased the ranks of the state’s unemployed, who often lose their health insurance along with their jobs. 

“This is a very tough decision but it is imperative that we align our costs with our revenues,” Keeton said.  “I am truly sorry for the people who are affected but we have no other option.”

In addition to the poor economy, UMMC has been contending with the considerable costs of implementing an electronic health record in order to comply with federal regulations. 

Affected employees include administrators, technicians, nurses and support staff. 

“Health care is facing many unknowns at the local, state and federal levels and we have to take precautions to respond to that uncertainty,” Keeton said.  “Over the long term, the need for health care and the health professionals we’re training to provide it will only grow.”