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mmorris

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

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com North Mississippi Hematology and Oncology, including longtime oncology nurse Nan Francis, from left, oncologist Dr. Julian Hill and Nurse Practitioner Ashley Gilliland are joining forces with the NMMC oncology services, which are led by Beth Bryant.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
North Mississippi Hematology and Oncology, including longtime oncology nurse Nan Francis, from left, oncologist Dr. Julian Hill and Nurse Practitioner Ashley Gilliland are joining forces with the NMMC oncology services, which are led by Beth Bryant.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com With the new partnership, all oncology infusion services will be performed at the Bridgeport facility on South Gloster Street.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
With the new partnership, all oncology infusion services will be performed at the Bridgeport facility on South Gloster Street.

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – A partnership between North Mississippi Medical Center and a Tupelo-based oncology practice will bring all of the outpatient oncology infusion services under one roof.

North Mississippi Hematology and Oncology and its facility at Bridgepoint became an NMMC outpatient department effective Monday.

“This exciting and innovative partnership will enable us to coordinate all of our cancer services to best meet our oncology patients’ needs,” said Shane Spees, North Mississippi Health Services president and chief executive officer.

Over the next few months, all chemotherapy infusion services along with support services will migrate to the Bridgepoint building on South Gloster Street from the NMMC Cancer Center on Garfield.

“This is what we had in mind when we built this facility six years ago,” said Tupelo oncologist Dr. Julian Hill.

As part of the move, NMMC will create a sterile compounding lab in the Bridgepoint building.

In addition to offering more robust social work, nutritional counseling services and clinical research department, the consolidation will allow for cancer navigators, health care professionals trained in cancer care who serve as cheerleader and liaison to help patients.

“Navigation is very important in steering people through complicated multidisciplinary therapies,” Hill said.

At this time, radiation oncology services, which require a linear accelerator and heavily protected vault to contain the radiation, will remain at the Garfield Street NMMC Cancer Center, Bryant said. The infusion center will continue on the second floor, focused on non-oncology services.

National trend

The local change reflects the national trend. Changes in reimbursement policy are pushing medical oncology practices into large, integrated health systems, Hill said.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com Over the next few months, oncology infusion services will move out of the NMMC Cancer Center on Garfield Street. Radiation therapy and non-oncology infusion services will remain.

Thomas Wells | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Over the next few months, oncology infusion services will move out of the NMMC Cancer Center on Garfield Street. Radiation therapy and non-oncology infusion services will remain.

“There’s been tremendous consolidation,” he said.

For the past few years, a patient’s prescribed regimen has dictated where he or she received chemotherapy, according to Hill.

“It’s been based on the reimbursement for individual (chemotherapy) agents,” he said. In some cases, physicians were not getting paid enough to cover the cost of the medicines themselves.

The increase in out-of-pocket costs to Bridgepoint patients should be minimal, said Bryant, who noted patients will be able to tap into more robust services.

The physician group – Hill and his colleagues, Drs. Christopher Croot, Andrew Kellum, Charles Montgomery and Jiahuai Tan and Nurse Practitioner Ashley Gilliland, will contract with the hospital to provide services.

The other nurses and support staff at Bridgepoint and the group’s Starkville office are now NMMC employees.

“It’s just like a department at the hospital,” Bryant said.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

lifestyle_healthnewsBy Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Kids and parents can get into the swing of the school year at the annual children’s health fair hosted by Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi.

The free fair will run from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 23 at the Oxford Conference Center, and there will be plenty for children up to 12 and their parents to explore at the “Under the Sea”-themed event.

“By educating children at a young age to make healthy lifestyle choices, the chances increase that they will continue to make the right choices throughout their lifetime,” said Bill Henning, chief executive officer for Baptist-North Mississippi.

Children, who should be accompanied by an adult, will be able to learn about fire and bike safety. They will be able to tour a fire truck, ambulance and the hospital’s helicopter. They will enjoy arts and crafts, story time and a magic show. There will be free screenings for hearing, vision, speech, development milestones and dental health.

“The health fair is an excellent opportunity for children to receive free screenings and information on health, nutrition and safety,” said Jennifer Eastland, community relations coordinator at Baptist-North Mississippi.

More than 50 vendors will have giveaways, activities and refreshments. The giveaway items will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

LOU Excel by 5 coalition has partnered with Baptist-North Mississippi to expand offerings related to early childhood at the children’s health fair over the past several years, said Alice Ricks, executive director of the United Way of Oxford and Lafayette County, which spearheads the coalition.

“These early years are so critical in making sure a child is ready for kindergarten,” Ricks said.

New this year, Excel by 5 will host two workshops for parents at 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. during the health fair. “Three Common Parenting Mistakes – And How to Avoid Them!” will be led by University of Mississippi psychology professor Carey Dowling.

The Lafayette County Literacy Council will present “Just 15 Minutes a Day! How and Why to Read to Your Child from Birth.”

Child care will be offered for workshop participants; parents just need to sign their children in before the workshops begin, Ricks said. Younger children will have a supervised activity area. Older children will be supervised at a magic show.

The workshops kick off a series that will be offered throughout the school year by the LOU Excel by 5 Coalition.

“We are strong believers in making sure parents have information, resources and support systems they need,” Ricks said.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

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TO GO

• For information, call (662) 232-8109 or visit baptistonline.org/north-mississippi/back-to-school-health-fair/.

I said nasty words in the office on Wednesday, moments after learning Tupelo’s Bruce Smith was killed in a car accident.
Ever since getting the sad news, I’ve pictured Bruce’s smiling face and remembered that I owe him something.
I had a great time interviewing him for a 2009 story. He was genuinely entertained by life, and he was a gentleman well-versed in making others feel comfortable, welcome and important.
When the story ran, an editor had changed the headline to identify him as the leader of Tupelo Symphony Orchestra.
With his years on the symphony’s board of directors, a case could be made that he was “a” TSO leader, though he didn’t appreciate being called “the” leader.
But he laughed it off when I called to apologize, and he was highly complimentary of the story.
I sometimes find it difficult to take compliments, but Bruce had an effusive, heartfelt quality. He could lift people up, even if they weren’t sure they wanted to be lifted up.
The Bruce I knew was always a good guy, and by always, I mean every time I saw him over the past 15 or so years.
Wait.
There was that one incident.
He used to write reviews of symphony concerts for the Mighty Daily Journal. An editor trimmed a review and Bruce wasn’t happy about it.
It’s easy to give him a pass because I’ve dealt with plenty of editors, and they’re a bunch of CONTENT DELETED.
About four months ago, Bruce stepped in and took my side after I’d gotten hammered by people online.
Thomas Wells and I were on the streets during the April tornado. I caught video of the swirling mass as it ripped through town, and later wrote about what it was like to witness a real, live twister.
I mentioned that we’d hid under a bridge, and a few people got angry, saying that’s exactly where you shouldn’t hide. One wrote, “I’d like to hit them in the mouth.”
Bruce was my only online defender:
“This is a wonderful piece of writing – vivid, gripping, even poetic in the presence of a great cataclysm of Nature. If Scott Morris and Thomas Wells had to shelter under a bridge for Scott to produce this stirring account, it was worth it.”
I don’t know if I agree with him. In hindsight, what we did seems awfully stupid.
But I’ve been carrying a “Thank You” for Bruce that I’d meant to deliver the next time we met.
Now I have a picture of his smiling face popping into my mind. It happens again and again, too many times to count, and it’s always followed by a lingering “Thank You.”
I hate that Bruce died. I hate it for his family. I hate it for his many friends.
But I like the idea of spending my days with a pocketful of gratitude for a good man.
M. SCOTT MORRIS is a Daily Journal feature writer. Contact him at or (662) 678-1589 scott.morris@journalinc.com.

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Mississippi towns will get national kudos today for a healthy first.

The American Nonsmokers’ Rights will recognize the state for leading the nation in passing local smoke-free laws. Nine Mississippi communities passed ordinances in 2013, beating out other top contenders Alabama, South Carolina, Missouri, Louisiana and California.

“This is the fourth time Smokefree Mississippi has received a Smokefree Challenge award for passing local smoke-free laws,” said the organization’s executive director, Cynthia Hallett, who will present the award in Jackson today. “Each time I return, I breathe a little easier knowing you are closer to protecting all workers and families in Mississippi from secondhand smoke exposure in public places and workplaces.”

Currently there are 84 smoke-free communities in Mississippi, where smoking is banned indoors in public buildings and workplaces. Another 15 communities have partial bans. The momentum is still building. Already in 2014, 10 communities have passed comprehensive smoke-free air ordinances. But advocates say it’s time to take a bigger step.

“We’re ready for a healthier Mississippi. It’s time for a state-level solution,” said Jennifer Cofer of the American Lung Association of the Mid-South, which is part of the Smokefree Mississippi coalition. “Despite the evidence on the negative health effects of secondhand smoke exposure and the positive health and economic benefits of passing smoke-free laws, our state legislature has yet to act.”

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

Children were living in deplorable conditions at the Barreto house.

Children were living in deplorable conditions at the Barreto house.

By Michaela Gibson Morris and Chris Kieffer Daily Journal At 2 years old, Ena Barreto couldn’t tell anyone about the horrific conditions she and her siblings endured. But her death from a head injury on May 19, 2008, led authorities to discover the abuse and neglect of Ena, her siblings and hundreds of animals on County Road 87 outside of New Albany. “In 26 years (in law enforcement), it is still the worst conditions I’ve seen children survive under,” said Union County Sheriff’s Department investigator Roger Garner. The children were in beds and cribs without mattresses and in a trailer that had no electricity, running water or air conditioning, Garner remembered. Dogs had run of that trailer, and the floors were full of feces and urine. A puppy had died in the children’s room and been left to rot to a skeleton. Authorities took eight children into protective custody that day – six who like Ena were adopted from Guatemala and two children born to Janet Barreto. The Tupelo-Lee Humane Society, In Defense of Animal, and Mississippi State University veterinarians took charge of 222 dogs and 10 Persian cats. “They said it was the worst one they had ever seen,” said then-Tupelo-Lee Humane Society director Debbie Hood, who helped with the animal rescue. “First of all was the smell, the stench of breeders in their cages with their puppies and sitting in feces. It was in a small enclosed area, and you couldn’t breathe. The ones that were outdoors, the cages were busted, some of their legs would fall through the bottom, the heat was unbearable.” In the five years that Janet and Ramon Barreto have sought to evade the manslaughter, abuse and neglect charges, the children and animals rescued from them have done well, authorities said. Seven of the eight children taken into custody after Ena’s death, plus another child born to Janet Barreto before she and Ramon became fugitives, have been adopted. An American-born child the Barretos adopted before sending to live with a family where she was abused also was adopted. “They’re all thriving,” Garner said. “The good Lord put those kids where they needed to be.” The oldest child, Marainna Torres, was 17 at the time of Ena’s death. She pleaded guilty and went to jail for her part in the death, but authorities stress she suffered from the same neglectful and abusive conditions as her siblings. They say she quietly is building a new life. The animals rescued from the puppy mill also found new lives, Hood said, noting all of them found new homes. Before that day Former Daily Journal reporter Patsy Brumfield combed transcripts of interviews and court testimony to put together a picture of the circumstances that led up to Ena’s death. In 2005, Ramon and Janet Barreto apparently decided they wanted a son. Through 2008, they ended up adopting seven children from Guatemala. Marainna Torres told investigators that inspectors who came to conduct home studies only visited the first doublewide trailer. They never made it to the back trailer where the children stayed or to the cages that housed hundreds of dogs. Torres said the Barretos used credit cards to acquire the children, ranging from $615 to $25,000, depending on their physical conditions. Torres’ statement claims the young children rarely were bathed, were forced to drink hot sauce as punishment and spent hours tied up with duct tape after they “were cutting up.” As for her mother, Torres said maybe once or twice a week Janet Barreto would go to the back of the trailer, where the children stayed in their beds, and gave them “little cakes” she bought on sale at the bakery. Fatal day Her parents required Torres to take care of the children, and on May 19, 2008, it fell to her to carry out a punishment for Ena who had misbehaved during a shopping trip. “My mama told me to take her back there and spank her,” she said about that day in a transcribed statement to investigators. “After I got done spanking her, I threw her in her bed. And she hit pretty hard because there was no mattress. It was plywood. “She landed on her whole body, but she, you could hear it when she hit her head.” “I knew not to tell anybody,” Torres told the investigators. “I was scared. I was scared of her.” On the way to the emergency room with an unresponsive Ena, Torres told investigators that her mother decided they would say Ena fell out of a shopping cart and landed on her head. But the story quickly unraveled as investigators visited the Barreto home and started digging. Torres was initially charged with capital murder. Ramon and Janet Barreto were charged with six counts of child endangerment, three counts of felony child abuse and one count of manslaughter by culpable negligence. The couple spent months in jail, then on Nov. 28, 2008, they posted appearance bonds of $450,000 each. They were free to go home, under restricted conditions. Additional charges of witness tampering were levied against Janet Barreto in connection with a call to Marainna in jail in April 2009. Janet Barreto failed to appear at a May 6, 2009, arraignment, and authorities realized they were no longer in Union County. A year later in 2010, Torres plead guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to serve five years in prison. She was given credit for time served in the Union County Jail, where she had been since July 2008. At the time, her mother and stepfather were believed to be hiding in Mexico. As part of her plea agreement, Torres agreed to testify against the Barretos. Over the past five years, Third District Attorney Ben Creekmore said he trusted that the Barretos would not be able to remain hidden indefinitely. “Time is on my side, not theirs,” Creekmore said. The case against them has remained active on the criminal docket. “It will be a priority case for us,” Creekmore said. michaela.morris@journalinc.comchris.kieffer@journalinc.com

Adam Robison | BUY AT PHOTOS.DJOURNAL.COM Roaster Scott Reed laughs with Dr. Wayne Slocum during the dinner for the Good Samaritan Roast that was held in Dr. Slocum's honor Tuesday night at the Summit in Tupelo.

Adam Robison | BUY AT PHOTOS.DJOURNAL.COM
Roaster Scott Reed laughs with Dr. Wayne Slocum during the dinner for the Good Samaritan Roast that was held in Dr. Slocum’s honor Tuesday night at the Summit in Tupelo.

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

TUPELO – A record crowd had a knee-slapping night Tuesday as it roasted Dr. Wayne Slocum and toasted the Antone Tannehill Good Samaritan Free Clinic.

“It’s kind of like putting Justin Wilson and Jerry Clower together,” said roaster Pat Caldwell, who teased his friend about his native Louisiana and off-color adventures.

The Tommie and Dr. Walter Bourland Annual Roast recorded the largest crowd ever and a record $100,750 raised, with more donations still coming in, said President Cindy Sparks. The money funds nearly a third of the budget for the clinic which cares for working Lee County residents who can’t afford health insurance.

Along with Caldwell, roasters Yvette Slocum and Scott Reed pulled out pictures and crazy stories about Slocum’s misadventures and snappy one-liners.

“Don’t laugh at him, you’ll be stuck with him forever,” Yvette Slocum said her friend warned her the night her husband tried to pick her up in a bar in New Orleans while she was in nursing school and he was in medical school.

But even though he told his high school classmates he found her phone number on a bathroom wall and embarrassed her on a New York subway, it’s been a joy to be around him for 30 years of marriage.

“I hope to have at least 30 more to laugh together,” she said.

Scott Reed teased Slocum about their mishaps while mountain climbing, but joking aside, praised the Slocums’ efforts on the behalf of the community.

“As a couple, they go out of their way,” Reed said. “They are so genuine.”

Slocum, who has been an obstetrician-gynecologist for 27 years in Tupelo, brought a bag of props including a halo and angel wings. But even as he prepared for the evening of laughs, the clinic’s serious purpose and its long history came through.

“It means a lot,” said Slocum, to be a part of the event named after his late medical practice partner, Dr. Walter Bourland and his wife Tommie. Bourland served as the clinic’s first medical director and his wife was a longtime volunteer.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com Lacing up their sneakers and heading out for a daily walk can help seniors maintain their sense of balance and guard their mobility. Even small steps can reap big benefits, health advocates say.

Lauren Wood | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Lacing up their sneakers and heading out for a daily walk can help seniors maintain their sense of balance and guard their mobility. Even small steps can reap big benefits, health advocates say.

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

For seniors who want to add life to their years, a daily walk may be the best medicine out there.

“Just getting up and moving makes a huge difference in people’s lives,” said Laurie Otis, a physical therapist and geriatric clinical specialist with Gentiva home health and hospice. “The research shows the more they move, the more they enjoy life and gain health benefits.”

Seniors don’t have to go for miles to see health benefits from walking, said Otis, who made presentations in Fulton and Tupelo last week as part of a national Step On It! campaign. The campaign encourages older adults to make movement a priority and take common sense precautions to prevent falls.

“If we keep them up and moving, they’ll be less likely to fall,” Otis said.

Benefits

Walking can help keep the body stronger and more limber, said Heather Thorn, an exercise specialist. It’s a weight-bearing exercise, so it strengthens bones.

“The stronger your bones are, the less likely you are to have a fracture,” Thorn said.

But when people get sedentary, the reverse can happen – they lose flexibility, balance, muscle strength.

“Everything that’s going to keep you mobile is going to decrease,” Thorn said.

Health advocates often emphasize walking because it’s accessible to almost everyone, but any kind of movement counts, including swimming, dancing or group classes. T’ai Chi Chih and gentle yoga classes are particularly good choices for those looking for low-impact exercise options to strengthen balance.

How much isn’t as important as making activity a priority and pushing yourself to make small, incremental steps.

“Don’t worry about comparisons,” said Thorn, who has seen folks who couldn’t walk for a minute on the treadmill more than quadruple their time with two weeks of effort. “Just the small things deliver big rewards.”

Smart steps

Aging is a fact of life. With it comes eyes that take longer to adjust to changes in light and dark. Reaction times slow. Balance erodes. Common sense measures can guard against falls and keep people moving.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Registered nurse Marla Harshberger, area director of sales for Gentiva, helps Stan Hendrix with a pedometer during a Step on It! presentation at Avonlea assisted living in Tupelo.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Registered nurse Marla Harshberger, area director of sales for Gentiva, helps Stan Hendrix with a pedometer during a Step on It! presentation at Avonlea assisted living in Tupelo.

The right shoes are essential, not only for comfort, but for reducing the risk of falls, Otis said.

Walking shoes should have good tread. They don’t have to lace up; they can be slip-on or Velcro, but they do need to be snug so they provide the proper support to foot and ankle.

Pay attention to how you walk, Thorn said. Avoid shuffling – which can increase the risk of tripping – and make sure the heel hits first.

It’s important to know your medications well and how they could affect the risk of falls, Otis said. For example, some medications can lower blood pressure; people taking those medicines may need to give themselves a few minutes to adjust after standing up before they take off walking.

Finding a walking buddy does double duty. Being accountable to another person helps keep your exercise routine going. If you run into trouble, there’s someone there to help.

Especially for someone who has been sedentary, it’s important to start slowly and follow any instructions from your health care team. Don’t shy away from walkers and canes if they’ve been recommended.

Tandem walking, using a counter or narrow hallway for support, can be a good way to rebuild stamina and gain confidence, Thorn said. Focus on putting the heel down in front of the toe to build balance back.

Walking in the water can also be a good way to mitigate joint pain and balance issues. The buoyancy takes the strain off joints. Just like walking on land, it requires the proper footwear – beach or water shoes with treaded bottoms to reduce the threat of slips.

“It would be a good way to start,” Thorn said.

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DETAILS

• Before starting any exercise program, talk with your health care provider.

• Shoes with rubber-soled tread are the best choice.

• Make a plan. Consider the best places and times along with any adaptive equipment you may need.

• Find a walk buddy. You can help each other keep the routine going.

• Set little goals. Try to slowly increase the number of steps or minutes you walk.

• Make movement a priority every day.

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STEP ON IT!

Gentiva home health and hospice staff are available to present the free Step On It! walking safety programs to senior groups around the region. Call Marla or Angela at (662) 844-9725.

Blue_Cross_Blue_Shield_LogoBy Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Backed by health advocates, Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi will no longer pay for elective early deliveries.

In a press release Thursday, the insurer announced that starting Jan. 1, hospitals and physicians won’t receive any benefits for inductions and caesarian sections that are performed without medical reason before 39 weeks gestation. The policy does not affect naturally occurring or medically necessary deliveries.

“Here in Mississippi, where our infant mortality and premature birth rates are the highest in the nation, every step we can take to improve chances for healthy babies has a critical impact on the future health of our state,” said Sarah Broom, Blue Cross medical director.

The announcement came with support from the March of Dimes, Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier and the Mississippi section of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, who have an ongoing campaign to get hospitals and physicians to make sure as many babies as possible get to full term.

“Why take chances on the health of a newborn? Waiting a full term – which is 39-40 weeks – has significant health benefits for moms and babies,” Currier said. “Unless there is a medical reason, there is no reason to induce early delivery.”

The scientific evidence clearly argues against elective early deliveries, said Tupelo obstetrician Ronny Young, who lead the North Mississippi Medical Center Women’s Hospital effort to reduce elective early deliveries. Babies born between 36 and 39 weeks have an increased risk of lung problems and other complications that can require neonatal intensive care.

“It’s the best thing for patient care,” said Young, chief of the NMMC medical staff.

However, the new policy will be a shock to some physicians and hospitals.

“You will have physicians say that this is stepping over the line,” he said.

In Mississippi, the March of Dimes and the state health department have been working with hospitals and obstetricians for three years to voluntarily reduce the numbers of early elective deliveries. Out of 44 birthing hospitals, 38 are participating in the campaign. Ten, including NMMC-Tupelo and Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County have earned recognition for reducing early elective deliveries.

Mississippi Medicaid, which covers more than half of the births in the state, is reviewing its policies on early elective deliveries, but no information was available Thursday afternoon on when any decisions will be made.

“Our situation is so dire in terms of birth outcomes, change really needed to happen as soon as possible,” said Dina Ray, March of Dimes Mississippi director.

Beyond the better outcomes for babies, decreased early elective deliveries come with tremendous savings on interventions. Federal estimates suggest between 10 and 15 percent of American babies are delivered early without medical cause; Blue Cross said its numbers in Mississippi are consistent with the national estimates.

michaela.morris@journalinc.com

MICHAELA MORRIS

MICHAELA MORRIS

This week and next, students around Northeast Mississippi will head back school.

The vast majority will report to classrooms in public schools where their teachers will seek to equip them for life and work in the 21st century.

From their ranks will rise our future. We will need them to assemble cars, helicopters and, with luck, amazing inventions yet to be imagined. We will need them to build houses and roads. We will need them to teach our grandchildren. We will need them to take care of us when we become sick and old. In short, we will need them to deliver.

If Mississippi doesn’t strengthen our schools, we will continue to slip farther behind the rest of the country – and the world. A thriving economy in the global marketplace requires agile minds, not just strong backs. Mississippi won’t be able to squeak by as a source for cheap labor. Other countries already have beaten us to the bottom of that particular labor market.

And yet Mississippi schools are being starved of the resources needed to create a bright future. Based on the Legislature’s own formula for funding, the state’s schools have been underfunded by more than $1.3 billion in the past six years. For this year, the shortfall is $257 million.

The burden of making those dollars stretch has fallen on teachers and principals who are stretched to find supplies and resources even as they seek to meet mandated benchmarks in reading, math and science.

A non-partisan effort, Better Schools, Better Jobs is gathering signatures from registered voters that would put a constitutional amendment before Mississippi voters this fall. They aim to gather 200,000 signatures across the state. Then it would be up to the voters on Nov. 4.

The amendment would require the Legislature to fund an adequate and efficient system of free public schools. If legislators fail to act, relief could be sought through the chancery courts.

The proposed constitutional amendment doesn’t require any new taxes to fully fund schools or cuts to established programs. If public education couldn’t be fully funded, the Legislature would have to put 25 percent of new general fund revenues toward public education through 12th grade. Based on the current fiscal projections, it would take seven years to reach adequate funding.

To be sure, our schools need more than money. They need adults to demonstrate how important education is for all children in the state. They need tremendous community support that goes beyond crowds at Friday night football games.

If you haven’t had a chance to sign a petition, check out betterms.org online. The organization can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.

Making sure the schools have enough money for teachers, supplies and equipment is a starting point. But we have to start somewhere.

It’s not just for the kids. It’s for all of us.

Michaela Gibson Morris is a Daily Journal staff writer. Contact her at michaela.morris@journalinc.com or (662) 678-1599.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Mooreville's Scott Vines breathes out water vapor from an electronic cigarette at Druthers Vapor Shoppe in Tupelo.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Mooreville’s Scott Vines breathes out water vapor from an electronic cigarette at Druthers Vapor Shoppe in Tupelo.

By Michaela Gibson Morris

Daily Journal

Electronic cigarettes are sparking a lot of debate.

People who inhale the vaporized nicotine say they’ve been able to quit combustible cigarettes and are reaping significant health benefits.

Jo Escher of Baldwyn credits vaping with helping her kick a 43-year smoking habit and allowing her to control her asthma.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com Battery-powered e-cigarettes work by heating a metal plate or filament that turns the liquid into vapor.

Adam Robison | Buy at photos.djournal.com
Battery-powered e-cigarettes work by heating a metal plate or filament that turns the liquid into vapor.

“I no longer have shortness of breath or fleeting chest pain,” said Escher, who had previously made multiple attempts to quit without success. “Every doctor I go to has been highly supportive.”

Anti-smoking advocates, the American Lung Association and the American Thoracic Society have deep reservations about the safety of the devices and unintended consequences that could encourage kids and non-smokers to pick up the practice.

“There is no way for the public health, medical community or consumers to know what chemicals are contained in e-cigarettes or what the short- and long-term health implications might be,” states the American Lung Association.

In Tupelo, the City Council is set to decide Tuesday if the e-cigarettes should be included with the indoor smoking ban.

The FDA is taking public comments on proposed rules for e-cigarettes that include a ban on sale to minors as well as detailed disclosures of ingredients and manufacturing processes. The rules would allow flavorings, which are prohibited in traditional cigarettes. The public comment period will end Aug. 8.

Tupelo pulmonologist Dr. James Rish wants better ways to help people stop smoking, but he wants more science before he starts recommending e-cigarettes. A 2009 FDA study looked at two brands and found some harmful substances in the vapor of the cartridges of two leading brands of e-cigarettes, but far fewer than traditional cigarettes. In its analysis, the FDA noted it shouldn’t be used to draw conclusions because of the wide variation in e-cigarettes.

“My main reservation is the lack of safety data,” Rish said. “That there’s no standard device makes research problematic.”

Aleigh Farris, owner of Druthers Vapor Shoppe in west Tupelo, is eagerly awaiting more in-depth FDA study results that reflect what she and most other American vapor shop owners use to create the liquid for the e-cigarettes: Propylene Glycol, vegetable glycerin, nicotine and food-grade flavorings.

“All of the ingredients are individually regulated by the FDA already,” said Farris, who like many in the industry, welcome FDA regulation.

The battery-powered e-cigarettes work by heating a metal plate or filament that turns the liquid into a vapor. Some e-cigarettes look like regular cigarettes. Many use a vaporizer that’s a little bigger than a marker because they have a longer battery life.

Escher and Farris hope that the Tupelo City Council will wait for more science before joining other cities in adding e-cigarettes to indoor smoking bans. The vapor from e-cigarettes doesn’t behave like cigarette smoke, and e-cigarette users take pains to seek permission before vaping, even when the vapor smells pleasant.

“I got ‘who’s baking cookies?’” the other day, said Escher, who makes a point of asking before vaping.

Rish can see the case for excluding e-cigarettes until the science proves them safe.

“The safest approach is to add it to the ordinance,” Rish said. “But that’s a political decision, there’s no science to back that.”

michaela.morris@journalinc.com