This month, at 75 and overflowing that original campus like a large, rumpled blanket, the 650-bed North Mississippi Medical Center is the largest private-sector employer north of Jackson and a referral center for medical specialties serving Northeast Mississippi and parts of western Alabama and southern Tennessee.
At its core, however, beats the heart of the same not-for-profit, community-owned corporation that formed in a financial/covenant partnership with the philanthropic Commonwealth Fund of New York, which focused its wealth and energy on building community hospitals in rural areas. In the 1930s, after a 1920s start was interrupted by the onset of the Depression, a group of persistent and enthusiastic Tupelo area leaders convinced the nonprofit organization from New York to build a new 50-bed hospital in Tupelo. The Great Depression and a horrific, devastating tornado in 1936 made the situation tough, but those leaders managed to raise $33,572 (from more than 2,700 donors) as the local share of the Commonwealth Fund project.
North Mississippi Medical Center today is the largest rural hospital in the United States.
It employs nearly 6,300 people. It is comprised of six hospitals across the region, medical clinics and specialized centers for almost every health care need. It is the economic engine that drives investment in scores of health care-related private-sector enterprises employing additional hundreds of people, and its employees drive into Tupelo from distances that would have been deemed impossible in 1937 because roads and highways weren’t adequate, and many people didn’t own cars.
In 2006, NMMC achieved a coveted Baldrige Award, presented by the federal Department of Commerce annually in recognition of the top organizational excellence in the U.S.
The hospital, as most people in Tupelo still call NMMC, from time-to-time has been criticized externally, and to its institutional credit, those public criticisms have been addressed directly internally – and fixed.
No institution of such size could be deemed perfect, but the medical center is extraordinary in what it accomplishes every day to heal, to save, to restore – and to comfort when even the finest medical practices cannot sustain.
Its technology is dazzling by almost any medical standard and in a constant state of upgrade and greater sophistication.
Almost innumerable people through the decades have entrusted their kin, friends and their own lives to the hospital’s care, and most have left believing everyone worked for the best result.
In sum, that is a remarkable record.