Bridging the Great Health Divide: Hospital reopens in medically underserved town of Marks, Mississippi

Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 11:23 PM CST
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MARKS, Miss. (WMC) - Elected officials gathered in Marks, Mississippi Friday to welcome back a fully operational hospital.

“We are very thankful we were able to pull off the impossible,” said Quentin Whitwell, the new CEO of Quitman Community Hospital.

Quitman County closed its only hospital in October 2016 with no expectations to reopen. In Mississippi, a county has five years to re-apply before the original certificate of need expires.

Whitwell says he literally had 12 minutes left on the clock in order to restore accessible healthcare and a 24-hour emergency room to this small Delta county.

“Well, for this community, it means everything. It’s life or death,” said Whitwell.

For five years, Whitwell says residents had to travel at least 30 miles to the nearest emergency room, which is a common problem for residents living in rural communities like this one.

According to the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services, 136 U.S. rural hospitals have closed since 2010. 2020 was a record-breaking year with 20 small-town hospitals shutting their doors.

“Quitman County is what you call medically underserved. That means our children die quicker than any other area. That means our seniors die faster before they need to because of inadequate medical care,” said Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson.

Thompson hopes this new hospital will start the steps to a healthier community by bridging the great health divide that happens in so many poorer towns.

However, there are obstacles.

“Well, obviously we have to make sure it’s fully staffed. It’s difficult to recruit medical professionals to rural America,” said Thompson.

According to the National Rural Health Association, for every 10,000 residents in rural communities, there are about 13 physicians as compared to 30 doctors in urban communities.

That’s troubling news considering statistics show people who live in rural areas have a shorter life expectancy and higher occurrence of diabetes and coronary heart disease.

But this community sees brighter days ahead with a brand new hospital right in their community.

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