A Mississippi Delta hospital anchors its community. Now he can close.

Greenwood Leflore’s financial struggle is the latest challenge in a predominantly black Mississippi Delta community that has been hit hard over the past two decades by the closure of major manufacturers, a shortage of teachers in its public schools and a strong population loss – there are not enough new arrivals to replace residents who have left or died.

Throughout the city’s setbacks, generations of residents have taken their first and last breaths at Greenwood Leflore Hospital. It is also a key economic driver. In an area where many families struggle to put food on the table, the medical facility is one of the biggest employers in the area.

Within weeks this fall, the hospital’s situation worsened, with acting chief executive Gary Marchand acknowledging in a memo from staff that it could close before the end of the year. On November 4, talks with a larger Jackson hospital that local officials had hoped would take over Greenwood Leflore broke down.

Marchand estimates the hospital needs $5 million to $10 million to stay open until next summer. While several banks are ready to step in, he said city and county officials will need to help secure the resources on behalf of the hospital.

“We won’t get to 2023 without funding,” he said.

Leflore County Board of Supervisors Chairman Robert Collins said finances are already tight, but the county can most likely contribute about $3.5 million to Greenwood Leflore. He warned that the county would not be able to float the institution for the long term.

“We can’t generate that money in the county,” he said. “We don’t have that kind of tax base.”

Greenwood City Council Speaker Ronnie Stevenson acknowledged that the city may also need to provide assistance.

He’s adamant that he doesn’t see closing the hospital as an option, but is candid that he doesn’t want to ‘keep throwing water on a sinking ship’. At a minimum, he said, the hospital, which lost nearly $2 million last month, needs to start breaking even.

A more comprehensive solution could come in the spring, when Marchand hopes the legislature will approve a statewide plan to increase Medicaid funding to hospitals.

“We have to find a government solution, if we want to be viable in the long term,” Marchand said.

With the fate of the hospital at stake, the community may have to wait months for an answer.

Some residents have already started looking for doctors elsewhere, but Dr. Roderick Givens, a radiation oncologist who has practiced at Greenwood Leflore for 15 years, said it can sometimes be difficult for patients to even get to appointments. local.

Dr. Roderick Givens, who treats cancer patients at Greenwood Leflore Hospital, is working with other local leaders to keep the facility open. Timothy Ivy for NBC News

Some in Humphreys County, which borders Leflore County, are already having to drive longer for treatment than a decade ago after Humphreys County Memorial Hospital closed in 2013.

If Greenwood Leflore closes, residents will need to go to North Sunflower Medical Center in Ruleville, about 31 miles away, or South Sunflower County Hospital, about 28 miles away in Indianola, for an emergency room.

“It basically equates to a death sentence,” Givens said. “A hospital 10 minutes away now becomes half an hour away.”

The idea of ​​the hospital closing is grim enough that Sibley wonders if she should leave the Mississippi Delta town she’s lived in since she was little.

“If something happens to them, it happens to me,” she said of the hospital.

But making these types of contingency plans means having access to resources, like money and cars. Nearly 30% of Greenwood residents and 25% of Leflore County’s population live in poverty. And nearly 13% live in homes without a car, according to census data.

Since the closure of the Greenwood Leflore Labor and Delivery Unit, many pregnant residents must travel 45 minutes to a satellite hospital of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in neighboring Grenada County to deliver. The only option left in Greenwood is the hospital emergency room.

This is a community where lower life expectancy rates already meant residents were burying loved ones earlier in life, compared to those born in more prosperous areas.

Residents here know that a full tank of gas and reliable transportation won’t always be enough to overcome the disparities underlying the state’s maternal and child health crisis.

Mississippi has the highest infant mortality rate in the nation, while pregnancy-related deaths here are more likely than the national average. Black women in the state are almost three times more likely than white women to die while expecting, or within a year of giving birth, or ending their pregnancy.

In the Delta, where some counties lack OB-GYNs, pregnant women and newborns are particularly vulnerable.

Kayla Wheeler had several close calls during her pregnancy before safely delivering a baby girl in Greenwood Leflore last year.

The 24-year-old suffers from epilepsy. Shortly after learning she was pregnant, she had a seizure in a shoe store and was rushed to hospital.

She was picked up when she was 30 weeks pregnant. Wheeler had just arrived at her sister’s house and was preparing to leave for a day trip to Jackson when she looked down and noticed she was bleeding.

Kayla Wheeler with her daughter Chase at Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Mississippi on November 16, 2022.
Kayla Wheeler with her daughter at Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena, Mississippi on Nov. 16, 2022.Timothy Ivy for NBC News

Wheeler had already decided on a name for her baby girl. Now she feared her baby would not survive.

“I thought I was going to lose her,” she said.

Her sister’s fiancé brought Wheeler to Greenwood Leflore in 10 minutes, and she and her baby were fine.

“It’s good that I got to the emergency room in time. Otherwise, things could have gone left,” Wheeler said.

When Greenwood Leflore opened in 1906, it initially operated in a mansion converted into a medical facility.

By the time Jordan, the son of a sharecropper and now a state senator, was attending Mississippi Valley State University, a historically black university in the Mississippi Delta in 1955, the hospital had moved to its third location, a short distance from the main town. street, where he stands today.

Jordan remembers being briefly quarantined there in 1964, after he and his wife, who worked as nurses, tested positive for tuberculosis, before being transferred to a sanatorium to recover.

Today, Jordan, 89, who has represented Greenwood for nearly three decades, said when he visits the store he is often approached by residents concerned about the future of the hospital.

“People here are almost in tears,” he said.

Jordan pointed out that the hospital’s financial decline occurred because Mississippi remains one of 11 states not to enact Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Economists have estimated that the first year of increased Medicaid eligibility would bring $1.6 billion in federal funds to the nation’s poorest state.

“It’s just an injustice to the poor, the rejected and the downtrodden,” Jordan said.

The retired teacher is frustrated that lawmakers have not stepped in to resolve the hospital’s crisis. The state legislature, which normally begins meeting in January, was brought back to the Mississippi Capitol in a special session this month to approve nearly $247 million in tax incentives to a private d aluminum factory.

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