Health care, utilities among topics discussed at Meet the Candidates Forum

Published 3:23 pm Friday, June 30, 2023

Health care, Medicaid expansion and utility service were among the main topics as candidates for state office met Warren County residents at a forum on Thursday at the Warren County Courthouse.

An estimated 50 people attended the program sponsored by Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the First Mississippi Chapter of Blacks in Government, the Vicksburg Chapter of the NAACP and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority.

The discussion of health care and Medicaid expansion began with a question from the audience to candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and House Districts 55 and 85 concerning the loss of rural hospitals. At one point, all the candidates indicated they supported Medicare expansion.

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District 85 Rep. Jeffery Harness said the reason hospitals were closing is the lack of health insurance.

“We can address these issues if we would just simply pass Medicaid expansion,” Harness said.

Medicaid expansion, he said, “Would put a million dollars in our pocket and add countless numbers of jobs.

“We could also improve our hospitals by recruiting more doctors and more nurses that are leaving our state. So our care, our quality care, is not what should be,” he said. “The Band-Aid we put on our problem is not sufficient enough to heal our problem.”

Had Gov. Tate Reeves signed off on it, “We would have Medicaid expansion right now,” District 55 Rep. Oscar Denton said.

“We are losing billions of dollars from the first three years,” Denton said. “If we had accepted that money, it would’ve cost us zero. But we have some leaders that refuse to take care of the people. It’s not myself and Jeff (Harness). We tried to give the hospitals $150 million this year. They only said $103 (million).”

District 55 candidate Kimberly Stevens said the state needs to be able to get funding from other sources to make sure small hospitals can remain open.

“And by doing that, we can pull funding from certain grants,” Stevens said, adding she also believes Medicaid Expansion is important.

“I believe the reason why we have the closings is because we don’t have funding in the state,” gubernatorial candidate Gwendolyn Gray said. “We have a lot of isolated small towns and sometimes they get overlooked. We allocate funds from funding that we have that’s available, but we’re not spending it.”

Tiffany Longino, a candidate for lieutenant governor, said Medicaid should be expanded, adding, “We have people who are sick here in the state of Mississippi who need health care and health care can be available if our elected officials put the funds where they belong and accept those funds that we need, that’s coming in from the federal government.

“We could get something like $1 billion for the state of Mississippi for those that need health care and don’t have it,” Longino said.

Audience questions about utilities centered on improving service and better communication between utilities and the public and local officials. The questions come in the wake of a period of severe storms that knocked out power to thousands of residents. Entergy has been criticized by officials and customers for failing to respond to the outages quicker and provide timely updates on the recovery.

DeKeither Stamps, a candidate for Central District Public Service Commissioner, said one way to improve utility service is to write policies “that make our utilities resilient, affordable, reliable, not duplicate their failed policies or the policies of other states. We must do the things that are necessary to make sure all of these decision has a reliable result.”

He said Entergy is not responding to the public, “and somebody needs to write policy or somebody needs to rewrite policy to make it better. And that’s how policy moves our community forward.”

Central Public Service Commissioner Brent Bailey said after the ice storm of 2021, the PSC performed a full review of the state’s utility infrastructure.

And while the commissioners have taken steps to improve utility transmission in the state, “We need to take a look at the distribution system,” Bailey said. “But more importantly, we have to communicate, we have to have effective communications between our utilities and their customers because you have one choice, one provider until things change. You have one entity to lean on providing that critical essential life-saving resource.”

Responding to a later question, Bailey said communication between Entergy and its customers failed.

“That’s something we’ve always had issues with,” he said. “Not just communication but also service, too many times.”

Bailey said Entergy has hired too many out-of-state contractors who do not know the area or the customers. He said Entergy needs to hire more in-state workers and bring jobs back to the state.

Stamps said the PSC can do better, saying the people in the state deserve better from their officials.

“What has happened is unacceptable; it’s unacceptable for senior citizens to be without power for their home,” Stamps said. “If you don’t have power, it means you don’t have air.”

He said the commissioners should be more aggressive in holding utilities accountable for poor service.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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