Health Department: Major issues testing Thompson

Published 4:29 pm Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Newly appointed Interim State Health Officer Dr. Ed Thompson isn’t pulling any punches in outlining the problems that accumulated at the Mississippi Department of Health since he has been gone.

Since 2002, when Thompson left as health officer to join the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta and Prevention as a deputy director, the state department has largely fallen apart, as outlined by The Clarion-Ledger’s series “Public Health: Protect or neglect?” last year, and 30 hours of state Senate committee hearings the series prompted.

Mississippi’s syphilis and tuberculosis cases are increasing at an alarming rate, and the staffing shortage at the department isn’t helping the situation, Thompson says.

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Major changes must be made to change the agency from one of neglect to one designed to protect Mississippians’ health.

Earlier this month, Thompson named Dr. Mary Currier as interim state epidemiologist, and Dr. Lovetta Brown head of the Office of Health Disparity. Both are resuming positions held before the tenure of Dr. Brian Amy, who was “sunsetted” by the 2007 Legislature, allowing his position as state health officer to expire June 30.

These appointments are a good step, with Brown addressing the large but underserved African-American population with unique socio-economic health issues, such as hypertension and diabetes, and Currier effecting outreach.

Already, one change has been making information about communicable disease cases available to the public and physicians online. Communication with the public and physicians had suffered with Amy.

Lawmakers will be asked during the session that convenes in January to increase the department’s budget, Thompson says.

“We’re not adequately staffed in our clinics. We need to get more money from the state to hire nurses,” Thompson says.