Since joining the Daily Journal staff in 1996, I’ve covered crime, courts, education, elections, Tupelo city hall, fashion, features and health care. I’m married to Daily Journal staff writer M. Scott Morris, and we have two children, a dog and a cat. I’m often inspired by the passion of our medical professionals and the determination of individuals facing down serious health issues. I love my work because I learn something new every day that can help my family and Daily Journal readers lead fuller, healthier lives. In the past two years, I’ve taken charge of my own health and lost 85 pounds.

Stories Written by Michaela Morris

lifestyle_healthnewsBy Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo will celebrate healthy fun with a festival Aug. 23.

The Tupelo Health and Wellness Festival will begin at 10 a.m. at Veterans Park and culminate with a Glo Run after sunset.

The Healthy Tupelo Task Force organized a day-long festival where people can sample the gamut of health and wellness opportunities Tupelo has to offer, said Taylor Neal, health and wellness coordinator. It’s an opportunity to have fun and fight against the trends that have made Mississippi one of the unhealthiest states in the country.

“The idea is to keep our community moving and working together,” Neal said.

The free festival will allow participants to join in fitness classes like gentle yoga and Aqua Zumba. The festival will encompass Veterans Park, its disc golf course, the Tupelo Aquatic Center, the Tupelo Bark Park and Music Bend Trail.

Fitness centers, health food shops, health care providers and recreational equipment shops will be represented in the vendor area.

“It will be a showcase of health and wellness services,” Neal said.

Kids will have an area where they can participate in field day games while their parents go through health screenings.

Cooking demonstrations emphasizing locally grown foods and a fall-oriented gardening talk are also on the schedule.

Special events are in the works for canines, who are welcome at the festival as long as they are properly leashed.

Live music is planned for the evening as people warm up for the Glo-Run.

The fun Five Ten Run/Walk 5k will encompass the Music Bend Trail and will pass by the Elvis Presley Birthplace before returning to Veterans Park.

There’ll be foam machines, laser lights and black lights along the course.

“Everybody will be glowing,” Neal said.

The race fee, $40 for early registration until Aug. 3, $45 after, includes a T-shirt and glow-in-the-dark glasses, necklaces and paint.

The proceeds from the race will benefit the Healthy Tupelo Task force, which hosts health and wellness events and promotes healthy lifestyles in Tupelo.

Information about the festival and Glo Run registration can be found at



By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Dr. Wayne Slocum will put himself on the line Aug. 12 for the Antone Tannehill Good Samaritan Free Clinic.

The Tupelo obstetrician-gynecologist will be the guest of honor at the clinic’s 12th annual roast and toast. The event will begin at 7 p.m. at The Summit in Tupelo.

“It’s for a great cause,” said Slocum, who will be the target of remarks by his friends Reed Hillen, Scott Reed and Pat Caldwell.

“They’re people who really know how to tell a story,” Slocum said. “I picked those three because no one would take them seriously.”

The money raised through the roast covers roughly a third of the operating costs for the clinic that cares for working Lee County residents who don’t make enough money to access health care. Doctors, nurses and community members volunteer their time to care for patients at the Good Samaritan Clinic.

“It allows us to continue all of the programs and free medication assistance programs,” said Cindy Sparks, the clinic’s executive director.

Slocum, a native of New Orleans who joined OB-GYN Associates in 1987, follows in a line of physicians who made a vocation of community service. One of the senior partners, the late Dr. Walter Bourland, was the Good Samaritan’s first medical director. The roast is named in honor of the work Bourland and his late wife Tommie did to support the clinic.

Along with Dr. Swan Burrus and the late Dr. P.K. Thomas, the senior physicians made it clear a young doctor’s responsibilities went beyond the walls of the clinic and hospital.

“We had to give back to the community,” Slocum remembered. “It wasn’t just about taking, it was about giving.”

Through the years, Slocum and his partners have all seen Good Samaritan patients in the Magazine Street clinic and in their offices for more advanced care.

“We’re appreciative of the opportunity to give back,” Slocum said.



What: Dr. Walter and Tommie Bourland Annual Roast

Benefiting: Antone Tannehill Good Samaritan Free Clinic

When: Aug. 12, 6:30 p.m. social, 7 p.m. dinner

Where: The Summit on North Gloster Street, Tupelo

Tickets: $100 per person; available through Aug. 1

More information: Call Good Samaritan Free Clinic at (662) 844-3733

Chuck McIntosh | Daily Journal illustration

Chuck McIntosh | Daily Journal illustration

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Across Northeast Mississippi, patient portals are opening online access to doctors and hospitals.

“We do everything online, book airline tickets, paying bills,” said Tupelo family physician Dr. Brad Crosswhite, who helped pilot the North Mississippi Medical Clinic portal in 2012. “Why not handle medicine the same way?”

The secure, free services give access to medication histories, visit summaries, lab results and reminders about upcoming appointments. On most hospital portals, patients can see their discharge instructions. With the clinic portals, patients can request refills and communicate securely with the staff.



“The ultimate goal is to have patients more engaged with their care,” said Beverly Jordan, Baptist Memorial Healthcare chief clinical transformation officer.

Patients need tools to manage their health between doctors’ visits. Especially with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure, success often hinges on how well individuals can execute the game plan they developed with their health care team between visits.

“By partnering with patients and giving them electronic access, we hope we’ll have better outcomes,” said Rachael Hill, North Mississippi Health Services manager of physician systems.

The portals for area hospitals and clinics generally don’t give patients unlimited access to doctor’s notes and detailed lab reports, although patients can request more detailed information that can be delivered securely through the portal.

In the short term, physicians using portals say their patients have appreciated the extra access to information and communication.



“It cuts down on the phone calls and back and forth,” said Amory pediatrician Dr. Jose Tavarez, who is part of the CarePlus clinic organization. “It is a very efficient way to communicate.”

Crosswhite said his patients have appreciated seeing lab results as soon as he signs off on them. The patient report in the portal flags the results that need immediate action, not simply the ones that might be just outside the ideal range.

“We’ve tried to make it more meaningful,” Crosswhite said.

Around the region

Although there are a number of incentives for hospitals and clinics to move to electronic records and make patient portals available, those who treat Medicare and Medicaid patients also face penalties if they don’t meet meaningful use benchmarks.

A number of hospitals and clinic systems around the region have patient portals up and going, and more are coming online.

North Mississippi Health Services hospitals including those in Tupelo, Iuka, Pontotoc, Calhoun City and West Point; Gilmore Memorial Regional Medical Center in Amory; OCH Regional Medical Center in Starkville; and Magnolia Region Health Center in Corinth have all gone live with patient portal services.

Baptist Memorial Hospitals in New Albany, Oxford and Booneville will have portals go live between December and March 2015. The MyChart portal is up for most of the system’s metro Memphis hospitals and many of their affiliated clinics.

Each health system operates their own portal, and depending on the organization, there may be separate portals for hospital stays and outpatient clinic visits.

North Mississippi Health Services has one portal for hospitals and other for clinics. However, the clinic portal includes independent health care providers who contract with the hospital system for electronic medical records.

“Ours is unique because it’s a community chart,” covering 80 clinics and 300 providers, said Connie Renfroe, North Mississippi Medical Clinics nurse manager for best practices and innovations.

The clinic system portals are also separate for Gilmore’s CarePlus clinics and OCH Regional-affiliated physicians.

Baptist Memorial hospitals and the affiliated Baptist Medical Group are all together in one portal. All the Baptist medical offices will be available on the portal by the end of the year.

“One of the biggest benefits is that it’s an integrated record,” Jordan said.

How they work

To protect patient privacy and meet federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Privacy Act), signing up for patient portals requires multi-step identity verification.

“It’s designed to improve safety and efficiency of care while protecting privacy and security,” Jordan said.

Generally, email and text message don’t meet those standards, which is why patients have to log into the portal to receive detailed medical information, Renfroe said.

To sign up for portals, patients will need an email address to set up online access. Organizations have processes set up for those who need to serve as proxies for children and dependent adults.

For many hospitals, people don’t have to wait until they have a hospital stay to sign up for one of the hospital portal services. Medical record departments can guide individuals in setting up portal accounts.

“There’s a lot of excitement about getting signed up,” Hill said.

For most clinics, the process begins in person. For example, after identification verification, clinics in the NMMC system give patients a PIN good for 30 days.

Baptist Medical Group offices are encouraging patients to complete the entire process in the office, Jordan said.

“That way, when you leave, you can immediately benefit,” Jordan said.



For more information on accessing patient portals, visit or contact:

Baptist Memorial Healthcare

Gilmore Regional Medical Center

• (877) 456-9617, Monday–Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Magnolia Regional Health Center

North Mississippi Health Services

OCH Regional Medical Center, click on patient portal link

• Email –

news_inthenews_greenBy Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Runners and walkers will be the light in the dark Friday for the Women First Resource Center.

For the third year in a row, the Tupelo Running Club will hold Nightcrawler 5K at Ballard Park to benefit the Tupelo-based resource center created to support breast cancer survivors and others in their time of need. The race begins at 8 p.m. Friday, and many runners and walkers dress for the occasion.

“The kids love the glow-in-the-dark things,” said Gail Branner, who volunteers with the Tupelo Running Club and the Women First Resource Center.

The funds raised through the race – about $7,000 the past two years – help supplement the efforts of the non-profit, all-volunteer resource center, said Branner, who is a breast cancer survivor.

“It’s a very frightening thing for people going through it,” Branner said.

Branner felt the love of her family and friends during her treatment, but she found understanding among the breast cancer survivors at Women First.

“All of a sudden, you’re not alone,” Branner said.

The center offers space for support groups, makes wigs, scarves and caps available to those going through chemotherapy, hosts a casserole ministry and provides snacks and support to cancer patients.

Online registration, which is $25, is available at

Race night registration will begin at 7 p.m. Friday. T-shirts are only guaranteed to those who preregister.

Adam Robison | Buy at Parkway Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jennifer Mathis works with incoming kindergartners during a summer program designed to introduce them to the school. More Mississippi kindergartners are entering school with the experience of having attended pre-K, according to a new report.

Adam Robison | Buy at
Parkway Elementary School kindergarten teacher Jennifer Mathis works with incoming kindergartners during a summer program designed to introduce them to the school. More Mississippi kindergartners are entering school with the experience of having attended pre-K, according to a new report.

By Chris Kieffer and Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Despite making gains in health and education, Mississippi fell back into the bottom spot in the annual Kids Count Report.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation today released this year’s ranking of overall child well-being. It measures data related to economic well-being, education, health and family and community.

Ranked 49th last year, Mississippi showed improvement in each of the four data points related to education and to health. New Mexico made greater gains, however, to drop the Magnolia State to 50th.

Mississippi was particularly hurt by its child poverty numbers. About 35 percent of the state’s children live in poverty, compared to a national average of 23 percent.

Daily Journal | File Between 2005 and 2011, Mississippi saw a small improvement in the number of low birthweight babies born in the state.

Daily Journal | File
Between 2005 and 2011, Mississippi saw a small improvement in the number of low birthweight babies born in the state.

“It is really a matter of where Mississippi is starting from,” said Linda Southward, Mississippi Kids Count director. “For Mississippi to improve, the gains need to be made at a faster rate.”

Improvements in education included more kids attending pre-K and graduating from high school. Students also scored better on a national test in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math.

Health gains were reductions in low-birthweight babies, children without health insurance, child and teen deaths and teens who abuse alcohol or drugs.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve improved a tiny bit,” said Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier. “It gives us hope to know change is possible.”

Currier is especially encouraged by the downward trend in the teen birth rate, which has continued despite the economic downturn.

“To be healthy as a child, adolescent and adult, you need a healthy start,” Currier said.

The percentage of the state’s students not attending pre-K dropped from 54 percent between 2005-2007 to 50 percent in 2010-2012, the most recent data used by Kids Count. That is meaningful because pre-K helps children enter kindergarten ready to succeed, said longtime education advocate Claiborne Barksdale. Without pre-K, he said, many low-income students are already behind their peers when they enter school because they have often heard fewer words and had less access to educational resources.

“If we really expect to have children in poverty succeed in school, then we understand we need to begin working with them in their earliest years to try to get them off to a good start and get them where they need to be,” he said.

Southward said she is particularly excited that the state has begun to spend public money on pre-K for the first time. In 2013, it became the last Southern state to do so, awarding $3 million each to two programs – the Early Learning collaborative grant program and Mississippi Building Blocks.

The collaborative is a competitive grant program that has funded 11 groups that will serve about 2,000 children. This year, the state re-appropriated $3 million, which will continue the program but not grow it.

The biggest concern for Mississippi was worsening childhood poverty data. The percentage of children who live in poverty rose from 31 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2012. The state also had more children whose parents lack secure employment (40 percent) and who live in households with a high housing cost burden (35 percent) and more teens not in school and not working (12 percent).

“We have to acknowledge these issues around families and children are very complex issues,” said Corey Wiggins, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center. “There is not a one-shot approach.”

Addressing them includes supporting and investing in public education and increasing access to health care, health insurance and financial institutions, he said.

With education numbers improving and poverty numbers growing, a question may be which impacts the other in future reports. Will the rising education level reduce poverty or will growing poverty create challenges that make education gains more difficult?

“One of the things we want to be clear about and to make sure of is when students graduate, they have opportunities for employment,” Wiggins said. “We want to make sure we are investing into these new graduates so they have the necessary skills and education they need to be successful in higher education and/ or the job market.”

The annual Kids Count report is extremely valuable for those working to aid children and families.

“Knowing where we are and where we’ve been allows us to change to improve the future,” Currier said.,

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Thomas Wells | Buy at Nurse Manager Heather Reid shows guests a new trauma room in the newly expanded Baptist Memorial-Union County emergency department. The $12 million project gives the New Albany hospital 22 rooms instead of nine.

Thomas Wells | Buy at
Nurse Manager Heather Reid shows guests a new trauma room in the newly expanded Baptist Memorial-Union County emergency department. The $12 million project gives the New Albany hospital 22 rooms instead of nine.

Thomas Wells | Buy at The community can get a peek at new emergency department today at a 10 a.m. grand opening.

Thomas Wells | Buy at
The community can get a peek at new emergency department today at a 10 a.m. grand opening.

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY – Starting Monday, the emergency department at Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County will get some sorely needed elbow room.

At 6 a.m. Monday, the ER will shift from its current nine-room space into a newly constructed 22-room expansion on the backside of the hospital located on Highway 30. Traffic will be routed along Oxford Street to reach the new ER.

“We’re ready,” said Randy White, chief nursing officer for Baptist Memorial-Union County.

Over the past four years, Baptist Memorial-Union County’s emergency department saw its traffic climb from 16,000 to 24,000 visits annually.

“We’ve had patients in the hallway in chairs so they could see the doctor,” said Heather Reid, emergency department nurse manager.

Baptist Memorial broke ground on the $12 million expansion last August.

“We came in on time and a little ahead of budget,” said Walter Grace, Baptist Memorial-Union County administrator.

Today, the community will be able to check out the emergency department without breaking an arm during the grand opening at 10 a.m.

The lobby is open and sun-filled, but they don’t anticipate patients will spend much time there. A nurse will be on duty in the lobby with the goal of quickly triaging patients.

In addition to more space, the new ER has a decontamination area in the ambulance entrance, two isolation rooms, quick access to imaging and improved delivery systems with the lab and pharmacy.

All 22 rooms are ready to receive patients, but the hospital anticipates it will primarily use 16 of them in daily operations, White said.

No decision has been made about what will go into the old emergency department space.

“We have several options we’re looking at,” Grace said. “Hopefully, it will be new services.”



By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Sanctuary Hospice House has tapped a longtime Tupelo health care leader as its next executive director.

George Hand, who currently serves as cardiovascular services administrator at North Mississippi Health Services, will succeed the retiring Linda Gholston.

“I see this job as a ministry first and foremost,” said Hand, who was particularly moved by the experience of visiting a family friend at Sanctuary this spring. “I can see God’s work in what they are doing.”

Gholston, who helped open Sanctuary in 2005, announced her retirement in February and a search committee was formed to identify Sanctuary’s next leader.

“We are confident that George will continue the great legacy of servanthood that Linda Gholston established as the standard of hospice care excellence,” said Sanctuary Board President Lisa Hawkins.

The nonprofit hospice organization currently includes a 24-bed inpatient facility and a home hospice service. Sanctuary is also in the process of deciding how to best use the donation of the former Gardner-Simmons’ Providence House.

Hand, who started his health care career as an X-ray tech in 1983, has served with NMMC since 1991 in a number of roles including administrative director of the Family Medicine Residency Center and Regional Management of North Mississippi Medical Clinics and interim administrator at NMMC-Iuka.

“It’s been a good opportunity to be part of a bigger mission,” Hand said.

He has lead the hospital’s cardiovascular service line since 2004 and during that time the cardiologists, heart surgeons and staff have worked together to expand the vascular services, research programs and specialty programs available in Tupelo. Hand said he expects to transition to the position at Sanctuary by Oct. 1.

“I’m very happy for George, but I’m sad for us,” said cardiologist Dr. Barry Bertolet. “I think it’s going to be tough to replace him.”

A retirement dinner honoring Gholston is set for Aug. 28.

news_education_greenBy Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – Centralized registration is back again for Tupelo Public School District families.

Through July 22, parents can drop by Milam Elementary School cafeteria between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. to handle the registration chores for new and returning students. Last year, parents gave the centralized registration high marks for convenience, eliminating the need to repeat the registration process at multiple schools.

“We’ve had several hundred come through already,” said Mary Ann Plascencia, district community liaison. “We had about 2,000 last year.”

For the second year, the district is using Web-based InfoSnap for registration forms. Returning parents will need to review and update last year’s information. The information can be transferred to siblings’ registration forms, eliminating the need to repeatedly enter contact information. Computers will be available at Milam to complete the registration forms as well as free and reduced lunch applications.

The district has reverted to paper for health forms to avoid the lag time in getting forms sorted and delivered. Parents will need to fill the forms out at registration.

“In order for nurses to be able to immediately serve kids, we went back to paper forms,” Plasencia said.

Parents of returning students will need to bring two proofs of residency including a mortgage, property or lease document and a current utility bill. Assistance is available from school staff for those who need assistance in gathering the proofs of residency.

Parents of new students and rising seventh-graders also will need to bring 121 immunization forms. Seventh-graders are required to receive a Tdap booster.

The process has been moving smoothly for most, said Milam Counselor Tamekia White.

“It takes about 10 to 15 minutes depending on how many children you have to fill out the health form for,” White said.

Parents of Tupelo High School students will still need to attend orientation sessions so their students can receive laptop computers and schedules.

The orientation sessions will be offered by grade from noon to 6 p.m.:

• 12th grade on July 21

• 11th grade on July 22

• 10th grade on July 28

• Ninth grade on July 29

The elementary and middle school will have Meet Your Teacher nights in the week before school begins.

For more information, visit

For kids and adults, bike helmets are essential safety equipment

Daily Journal photoillustration/Adam Robison

Daily Journal photoillustration/Adam Robison

Whether it’s down the street to a friend’s house or up the mountain in the Tour de France, bike helmets should be along for the ride with cyclists at all levels.
“Everybody needs a helmet,” said Tupelo pediatrician Ed Ivancic.
Broken bones can be set and mended. Healing the brain is a much trickier proposition.
“Prevention is the only way we can fix it,” said Tupelo neurosurgeon Louis Rosa.
Helmets can’t prevent every bike-related head injury, but they tilt the odds in a rider’s favor. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety estimates that helmets decrease the risk of head injury by 85 percent.
Between 2003 and 2012, more than 80 percent of people killed in bike crashes were not wearing helmets, according to U.S. Department of Transportation statistics. In 21 states, children are required to wear helmets, although Mississippi isn’t one of them. There are no state laws requiring adult cyclists to use helmets.
“We’re convinced bike helmets save lives,” said Rosa and his fellow neurosurgeons, Dr. Elbert White and Dr. Carl Bevering.
Popular culture has come a long way in encouraging helmet uses. On TV shows, particularly those aimed at kids, bike riders are likely to have helmets.
“Ten years ago, helmets weren’t cool, now they are cooler,” Rosa said.
The cycling community around Northeast Mississippi has been strong advocates for bike helmets.
“When you see the Tupelo Cycling Club and other groups, they’re all wearing helmets,” Ivancic said.
So how do you get kids to wear a helmet? Parents wearing them when they go out for a casual ride goes a long way.
“If we want our kids to do things, we have to do them,” Ivancic said.
Even low-speed crashes can crack your cranium.
Dr. Mark Shepherd, an avid cyclist who regularly commutes by bike, learned that a decade ago. It doesn’t matter if it’s a race or a ride home, he doesn’t put a foot to pedal without his helmet.
“The first thing I do is put the helmet on,” Shepherd said.
In 2003, Shepherd was riding home from the hospital one night. Taking a turn from Clayton Road onto the Natchez Trace access, his bike skidded on a patch of gravel and went down.
“I’d probably hit that turn 100 times, even at that time of night,” Shepherd said.
Even with a properly fitted helmet, Shepherd suffered a concussion and blacked out for a short time. He was able to recover enough get up and get home before heading to the ER to be checked out. It took several days for his memory to return to normal.
Without the helmet, Shepherd suspects he would have had an incapacitating injury at best.
“I make my living with my brain,” Shepherd said. “It could have been the end of my career for sure.”

Organ donation advocates recognized an Aberdeen couple for their work today.

Steve and Laura Gaskin received the donor advocate award from the Mississippi Organ Recovery Agency at a ceremony in Jackson this afternoonlifestyle_healthnews. They were among 15 individuals and institutions honored at the MORA’s inaugural Spero Awards in Jackson. “Spero” is Latin for hope.

The Gaskins’ son Matthew became an organ donor after he was killed in a car wreck in 2008. His gift of life helped 39 people. Since then, the Gaskins have hosted an annual golf tournament to fund a scholarship fund in their son’s honor and have spoken out about the importance of organ donation.