NFL star says Mississippi needs burn center

Published 9:49 pm Friday, January 19, 2007

New Orleans Saints running back Deuce McAllister is endorsing a plan to establish a center to treat fire victims in Mississippi, more than a year after the state’s only burn unit closed.

Bill Kehoe, who handles public relations and special projects for McAllister’s Nissan dealership in Jackson, told a legislative committee that McAllister has been working with the Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Association to gather information about what it would cost to establish and operate a burn center in the state.

McAllister, who grew up in Mississippi and has a home and several business interests in Jackson, is “very, very concerned” about the lack of a burn center, Kehoe said Thursday.

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“This will be his home when he quits caring for football. So he wants Mississippi, central Mississippi, Jackson to be the best places they possibly can be,” Kehoe said. “And providing total and comprehensive health care for all its citizens is one thing that would make this state better.”

House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said he appreciates McAllister’s concern.

“If brother Deuce would lay about a (million) on the table, we might name the sucker after him,” Holland told Kehoe, who remained noncommittal.

The committee voted to establish what would be the state’s only burn unit at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.

Even if the proposal clears both chambers of the Legislature and is signed into law by the governor, it could be more than 18 months before a unit could be open, officials said.

The Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center in Greenville, which had been the state’s only burn unit, closed in mid-2005 because of budget and staffing shortfalls. It had been open 33 years.

Since then, Mississippi burn victims have been sent to other states for treatment. Among them were two women and three children sent to Georgia for treatment after being severely burned when a gas leak triggered an explosion at a Lee County home Dec. 5. One of the victims, 3-year-old Natetreuna Hunt, died Dec. 23.

The bill, which now moves to the full House for more debate, would give UMC $10 million to finish a floor of the critical care unit to be used for burn treatment. The bill also would give UMC money each year to run the center, which likely would treat large numbers of uninsured patients.

If the bill passes the House, it will go to the Senate.

Dr. Dan Jones, the head of UMC, told the House committee that the hospital would welcome a burn center if it’s properly funded. It already handles a large number of uninsured patients.

“If you give us too little money for doing this, we won’t be able to provide the care we need to provide,” Jones said.

Amanda Fontaine, executive director of the Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Association, said burn center directors in other states have told her it’s often a hardship to make room for Mississippi patients.

“They’re all pretty much resenting us right now,” she said.

The bill is House Bill 567.