Spends millions to improve health
by Becky Gillette
The Bolivar Bullet
While the Bolivar Medical Center is publicly owned, the Bolivar County Board of Supervisors decided in 2000-2001 to lease the hospital to Providence Hospitals, a professional management company in Tennessee, to operate the hospital. At the time, lease funds from the hospital were used to establish a trust fund operated by the Bolivar Medical Center Foundation.
“Our chartered mission is to improve the health of Bolivar County residents,” said Cleveland Urologist Dr. Derek Miles, who serves on the foundation board. “Through 20 years of investment excellence from our financial advisors and financial stewardship from the board, we have been able to grant millions of dollars, while still maintaining a current principal balance that’s more than double our initial endowment.”
The supervisors leased the hospital for 40 years accepting about $28 million in initial payments. That money has been invested by the foundation with the earnings used to improve the health and wellness of the citizens of Bolivar County.
The idea was if the management company ever defaulted on the lease, the endowment would be enough to keep the hospital up and running until a new management company could be found, said Mark Hargett, president of the Cleveland branch of Planters Bank, who is chair of the 11-member board of the Bolivar Medical Center Foundation.
“Over the years, our money managers have done a good job investing the money, and it has now grown to $53 million,” said Hargett. “We have a conservative approach. It is a well-diversified portfolio. We don’t ever get in trouble because it is so well spread out. I know the county appreciates it. And, at the same time, we are distributing it, getting it into the hands of people who can use it. We’ve put out $4.7 million in grants over the years, plus every year we also give the hospital $335,000 to help with indigent care and ambulatory care. At the time of the lease, the foundation took up those obligations.”
Some of the projects funded include numerous scholarships for local residents to attend medical and nursing schools. The idea is that people from Bolivar County are more likely to stay and serve the area after becoming licensed.
The Delta Health Center located in Mound Bayou, a very impoverished area, has been another of the biggest recipients of the grant funds.
John Fairman, CEO of the Delta Health Center, said the foundation funded the recruitment of two pediatricians recently.
“They also funded a health profession pipeline in partnership with Delta State working with middle and high school kids to grow our own health professionals,” said Fairman.
“A part of that was the renovation of the back part of our administration building so we could house medical residents there. We have four residents on campus right now. We know from research if you can expose medical students and other medical professionals to rural communities, they are much more likely to stay.”
The foundation also funded a health and wellness center. That facility provides not only the opportunity for taking fitness classes and working out, but participants can get counseling on issues such as controlling hypertension, diabetes, weight, etc. Trainers work with the participants who also have access to behavior health, medical services and counseling.
“This has been a tremendous benefit to the community enabling us to teach about healthy foods that reduce obesity and diabetes in young kids,” said Fairman. “Trainers are really into it. Another benefit is the foundation funded equipment and provides a stipend to hire a part-time gardener to manage 8.5 acres of land used to grow fresh fruits and vegetables given away free to anyone in the community. They also partially funded a complete conversion to a new electronic health record computer system.”
Another grant recipient is Delta Fresh Foods. Executive Director Judy Belue said having a local funder is the best of the best because people from Bolivar County are making decisions to help the community they know better than anyone.
“So, we feel very fortunate to have received funding to work in north Bolivar County to build up the local food system,” said Belue. “The reason we feel that is an important approach is because it accomplishes two important goals: improving health outcomes by way of nutritious food and providing economic opportunities to local food producers. The icing on the cake is we are developing local youth leadership that can carry this work forward.”
There are 15 youth and several local growers involved in the program that includes a small farm with a high tunnel, hoop-style greenhouse covered with plastic that is inexpensive, easy to construct and can allow crops to be grown nearly year around.
“The youth farm is blossoming and we have brought together other local growers to support a mobile produce market,” said Belue. “Through the experience of helping grow food, handle and process food, and market local foods, these youth leaders are beginning to understand how a food system benefits their community. We have been fairly successful not just growing different vegetables, but teaching healthier ways of preparing fruits and vegetables.”
The Bolivar Medical Center Foundation takes applications from January 1 through May 1. Applications are reviewed for three months and grants announced by August 1.
“We don’t just write them a check,” said Hargett. “We ask for reports back. Some come back for another year and they know they have to answer to us that they are doing something legitimate and worthy for the community.”
The programs are particularly important because of the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic. The Delta has some of the worst rates of diabetes and obesity in the country, and those underlying factors make someone at much greater risk of complications from the coronavirus. Hargett said it is more important than ever that people have to tools to manage their diet and adopt healthy lifestyle habits.