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The University of Mississippi Medical Center: Wading through the Water Crisis in Jackson


To wade means to get through water with effort. In this report, Dr. Kendra Outler, MD of  Uzima Health and Wellness spoke to the new Executive Director of the Mississippi Medical Association, Dr. Claude Brunson.

Dr Claude BrunsonIn this informative interview – view it at the bottom of this article – Dr Brunson focuses on the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), emphasizing not only the fact that UMMC  is the only Level 1 Trauma Center for the state of Mississippi, but that it also provides services like many other major medical centers, such as Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Neonatal ICU, and transplant services that don’t exist anywhere else in the state. Despite the vast, critical services offered, Dr. Brunson and Dr. Outler agree with Mississippi being a rural state, it has to do more with limited resources. UMMC is an academic training school for medical training in the state as other health scienc careers on the doctorate level.

The past two years have presented many challenges for medical centers all over the United States. Medical centers have been overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic and resources stretched thin. Some medical centers have had to overcome more than just the implications of the pandemic, which already presents many challenges. One such institution is the UMMC, which is trying to deal with the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis.

Water is essential for life. As Dr. Outler points out, “Hospitals need water for babies to be born and you need water to take care of children. You need water as a tertiary center for the state’s level one trauma center. Traumas and gun violence are up, and I do believe you need water for that.” The COVID-19 pandemic, while devasting on its own, presents an even larger problem when faced with a water crisis. Dr. Brunson, “Basic clean water and sanitation are primary. Jackson has had difficulties with this water and sewer systems for decades. I came here in 1988 and have been here ever since,”

“We know from the COVID-19 pandemic that COVID could affect the kidneys. Hence the patient would need dialysis. I read that the [water] crisis has affected kidney transplant, kidney disease centers, dialysis centers, and that’s a major part of health disparity in the Black community.”  In general, a water crisis is a major disaster, but as Dr. Claude Brunson explains “The University of Mississippi Medical Center has its own well system, and it has for a long time so that it is not impacted when the city’s water system goes down. Our health delivery system has had to make sure that it could stand up on its own when these issues occurred so that we could continue to take care of patients. And because of that, most of them have built their own well systems, and they can continue to carry on providing health care services in these crises.” Not all of the UMMC system is fortunate, however. “Now we do have outlying clinics, and one of the clinics is the Jackson Medical Mall where we do dialysis; that system was affected. So what we do in those circumstances, we bring all those patients back from the outlying clinics that are dependent on the city’s water system, we bring them back over to the university proper.”

In addition to ensuring those patients are brought over to the university proper, UMMC has distributed safe water to families and patients that are workers—which as one of the largest employers in the State of Mississippi, means many people are helped.  Dr. Brunson emphasizes “Our employees can get water, but we’ve actually had so many people around the country and around the world that have provided us water in that we’ve not had an issue with being able to provide water to folks who need it—including folks who are at university. Obviously some of our employees work at the university but live out in Jackson, so they have the same issues when they’re home—bathing and brushing their teeth and drinking water. So, we supply bottled water to them, and obviously they can come back over to the medical center in their workplace and get water if they need that.”

In addition to internal help, national coverage of the crisis has led to others across the country helping. “We here at the Medical Association, the health department, and the university medical center have all been part of one distribution system for getting water. We were contacted by a large, bottled water distributor out of New York about three weeks ago to bring down ten tractor-trailer truckloads of water, and we set up some distribution sites. And I thought that was a lot of water, and that it was going to take us a while to get rid of it. But no, we were out of it two hours ahead of what we thought our scheduled time to be out of was.”

During and in the aftermath of health crises, challenges arise on how to remedy the situation and what course of action those impacted should take. Dr. Brunson believes, “The city government has a responsibility to provide clean drinking water and sewage services. That’s what they’re elected to do. Now, there have been a number of things as far as how the state has treated city government. But even so, there’s enough blame to go around. I believe there has been structural racism for the past several decades, and we have elected leaders who know that and their job is to find solutions. So I think the citizens now are saying, you’re all to blame. You need to get together, fix whatever issues need to be fixed, find solutions, do your job, and get these American citizens—the citizens of America and of the state—get them to clean drinking water that they need.”

To learn more about the challenges disasters such as the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic have on medical centers such as the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC), which is the only level one trauma center in the state of Mississippi, listen to the full interview with Dr. Kendra Outler, MD from Uzima Health and Wellness with Dr. Claude Brunson, MD. Dr. Claude Brunson has practiced in Jackson, Mississippi for more than thirty years, is a recognized Navy Veteran, and the first Black physician to be a part of Executive Medicine for UMMC.

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