When I arrived in Mississippi on a fall night, the first thing I noticed was the quiet. Coming from New York, a place where the sound of car horns, people yelling and ambulance sirens blaring are the soundtracks that soothe you to bed each night, silence can be startling. Upon entering my hotel, I was met with beautiful architecture and the warm welcome you can only find in the South.
For a minute, it could have been easy to forget why I was there, enjoy the state on a surface level, and take in the pleasantries that aren’t afforded to a New Yorker. However, myself and my colleague were there to meet with a couple of organizations who are making a difference in a state where healthcare is fleeting and basic services, medicine and care required to live healthy lives can be hard to find. Our organization, NEO Philanthropy works with two organizations– My Brother’s Keeper and Alcorn State University – through our Donor Services Program.
Mississippi by the Numbers
Beneath all the “thank you, ma’am’s” and social courtesies, is a state that is ranked 49th among all states in infrastructure and opportunity, 50th in healthcare and 49th overall according to U.S. News and World Report. In terms of healthcare, the report ranked states using three benchmarks: access to care, quality of care the overall health of the population.
For healthcare organizations working to serve Mississippi’s residents, including NEO grantees My Brother’s Keeper Open Arms Clinic and Alcorn State University, they don’t need to hear the numbers to know the conditions in which they operate. They see and feel it every day.
My Brother’s Keeper Open Arms Clinic
When you walk into Open Arms Clinic, you can’t help but feel welcome. You won’t find any stark white walls that remind you that you’re here for medical attention. The blue walls and modern furniture paired with the smiling faces that greet you make you feel an immediate warmth.
Open Arms Clinic, located in Jackson, embraces the folks that could easily go without care in the state – poor people, LGBTQ+ people, women and more. They set out to serve as many people as they can in as many ways as they can. The clinic offers services ranging from STD testing, family planning (birth control counseling, pregnancy testing, health promotion), wellness exams, LGBTQ+ care and more, and they provide all of these services free of charge. In communities where many can’t afford healthcare, these kinds of services are priceless.
“If you take the stress of cost out of healthcare, people will go to the doctor,” June Gipson.
If Open Arms finds a barrier, they are quick to search for a solution. For example, many of the folks the clinic serves do not have transportation to take advantage of the clinic. Instead of leaving these people behind they use their fully equipped mobile unit to meet the community where they are.
What really separates Open Arms Clinic from other healthcare providers is they are the only organization in the state that proactively serves the LGBTQ+ community. They make sure they have members of the community on staff and they even park their mobile unit outside of gay clubs to provide healthcare on the spot. Of the more than 4,700 patients they served in the past year more than 170 were transgender. For a state as conservative as Mississippi, that is no easy feat.
As if they don’t do enough, Open Arms Clinic has a food pantry on site and has three psychologists on staff because they truly believe, “Wrap around services are the most essential thing you can give any patient,” June Gipson.
Open Arms Clinic doesn’t just service folks once time and never see them again. They want to keep clients coming back so they can stay healthy. When it’s time to leave, you know you’ll be back and you just extended your family.
Alcorn State University Brave Reproductive Health Project
If you travel about two hours outside of Jackson, Mississippi, you will arrive at Alcorn State University’s campus, home of an onsite clinic. In southwest Mississippi, the biggest needs of the community include access to healthcare and education, and each has an impact on the other.
Lack of education creates gaps in information, causing many to avoid seeking medical care until things get so bad they end up in the hospital. Alcorn State University is looking to end this cycle and provide the preventative healthcare that the community needs.
As with the Open Arms Clinic, Alcorn operates out of a brick and mortar clinic as well as a mobile unit that travels to service patients on college campuses and at health fairs. They are also doing their best to prevent young teen pregnancies that are prevalent among the community – all on a very limited budget.
When I visited the mobile unit, they were parked outside of a high school ready to discuss birth control options- especially long lasting options like Nexplanon – and any other women’s health issues. By offering free birth control education paired with administering birth control, they are giving young girls autonomy over their bodies and their future.
The majority of the population Alcorn serves is uninsured and their clinic is one of the few options patients have at comprehensive, free healthcare in the area.
In Mississippi, healthcare for the disenfranchised can feel like a privilege. Luckily, these organizations are doing what they can so folks know affordable access to healthcare is their right.