OUR OPINION: Focus can help create more jobs, better care

By NEMS Daily Journal

Gov. Phil Bryant let it be known early-on that fully capitalizing on the economic development opportunities of Mississippi’s health care sector would be a centerpiece of his administration.
While much of the discussion of Bryant’s vision has centered on a medical corridor in Jackson with an expanded University of Mississippi Medical Center, the vision is broader. It includes incentives for job development in regional health care hubs such as North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo and a push to serve more rural areas throughout the state.
Bryant went to the Mississippi Economic Council, the state’s chamber of commerce, for help in developing a plan to implement his vision and the governor and MEC leaders were in Tupelo on Friday to tout Mississippi’s health care opportunities and challenges.
A study released last week by the Association of American Medical Colleges reconfirmed what most health experts already knew: Mississippi is the most medically underserved state in the nation. We have fewer doctors per capita than anybody else, with the problem especially acute in remote small towns and poorer rural areas.
Mississippi is also the nation’s least healthy state, with worst or near-worst rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. The connection between the physician shortage and the general health of the state’s people is obvious. Initiatives to correct that shortage are an urgent necessity.
“Doctors will not come to Mississippi just because we need them,” Bryant told his Tupelo audience Friday. “We’ve got to grow our own.”
Bryant’s legislative program has emphasized tax incentives for physicians to locate in underserved areas of the state as well as support for an expanded medical school in Jackson.
More physicians means more accessibility to health care which should translate into a healthier population in Mississippi, so tax investments on the front end will pay dividends in the long run.
Better health care is critical from a humanitarian standpoint. But it’s also a key element of the economy, both in the direct jobs provided – currently 60,000 Mississippians, or 5.7 percent of the workforce in hospitals alone – and in creating a more productive work force that benefits businesses’ bottom line.
So health care is an economic driver both in creation of jobs and wealth and in making the state more competitive in non-health care sectors. Ultimately, it’s about our state’s quality of life.
The health care “economic driver” plan developed as part of the MEC-driven Blueprint Mississippi calls for a leadership body “to spearhead the implementation of a health care strategy,” as well as numerous recommendations on how Mississippi can remove barriers, encourage entrepreneurship and increase access in the health care arena. The new, intensive focus on the possibilities in this area offers Mississippi the chance to combine an urgent and critical service need with a promising economic development initiative.