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Bill seeks medical school at Alcorn

[01/17/01] Mississippi may gain another medical teaching complex if a bill introduced by Sen. Lynn Posey, D-Union Church, wins approval at the state Capitol.

“This is a win-win situation for everyone,” said Alcorn State University President Clinton Bristow. “Senator Posey’s bill links to our goal to be one of the strong institutions in the state in life sciences.”

If built in Lorman, the complex would be called Alcorn State University Medical Complex and would serve as a satellite of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, the only medical teaching facility in the state.

Dr. Briggs Hopson, clinical medical director and chief of staff of River Region Health Systems and former president of Mississippi Medical Association, said Wednesday morning he would not support such a facility. “I’m not sure they need another teaching facility in Mississippi,” Hopson said. “The chance of the bill passing is zero.”

The bill would have to be approved by both legislative chambers and signed by the governor to be enacted.

Hopson also said that for the first time, UMC’s enrollment in the nursing program is down this year and the whole state is experiencing a shortage of qualified registered nurses. He suggested that instead of the Alcorn complex, a teaching facility dedicated to nursing might be built in Lorman and that the students use Vicksburg’s hospitals to gain work experience.

The bill said the proposed center initially would offer a limited number of medical services, including residencies in family medicine. However, 10 years after its establishment, the center eventually would offer as many services as UMC, where the curriculum includes programs in the schools of medicine, nursing, health-related professions and dentistry.

The Mississippi Legislature enacted a law in 1950 that created UMC, and the four-year medical school has been in operation since 1955. Its enrollment in the fall semester of the 1999-2000 school year was 1,789. Eighty-four percent of the student body was Mississippi residents, and students from 32 states and 34 countries made up the other 16 percent.

The proposed Alcorn complex would be built primarily using funds from the Tobacco Health Care Expendable Fund, which contains money received from Mississippi’s portion of the settlement of the lawsuit against The American Tobacco Company. The state is receiving installment payments from the $4 billion settlement.

The bill calls for at least $30 million to be used from the tobacco money and for any other available funds to be designated for the construction of the complex. Bristow said he did not know how much it would cost to build a complex at Alcorn. In comparison, the cost of Vicksburg’s new River Region Medical Center under construction is just more than $113 million, Hopson said this morning. The center’s operating costs would be covered by fees collected for its services to the public, the bill proposes.

Improvements at historically black colleges and universities in the state, including Alcorn, are being negotiated under settlement terms of a 1975 lawsuit called the Ayers case, in which Mississippi was accused of having a segregated college system. In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered that segregation be eliminated at Mississippi’s eight universities. Ayers plaintiffs have proposed an $800 million settlement, and since 1995, the state has spent $83 million to improve the three historically black institutions Alcorn State, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State.

But last week, U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers Jr., who is overseeing the Ayers case, ruled against a similar request for a law school at Jackson State, saying there is no need for it. Mississippi already has two law schools one at the University of Mississippi in Oxford and the other run by Mississippi College in downtown Jackson.

Bristow said the Alcorn Medical Complex would “improve the health and well-being of Mississippi’s citizens,” give Alcorn the chance to be a “national leader in life science” and promote economic growth in the southwestern part of the state.

“A healthy population also means a healthy work force,” he said.

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Education, Bristow added, Alcorn is ranked No. 6 in the production of African American biological science graduates among all black and white universities in the nation.

“We have an extremely strong premed program,” Bristow said.

Also, about one-third of the 3,000 students at Alcorn are majoring in math or science, he said.

Barbara Austin of UMC public affairs declined to comment about the bill on behalf of the Jackson facility. Posey was unavailable for comment.