HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The city of Hattiesburg and The University of Southern Mississippi School of Social Work celebrated the success and growth of the city's E3 Health Initiative, which helps connect people to healthcare coverage.
"About two years ago, the national League of Cities blessed us to give us a $250,000 grant, and that grant was actually so we connect people who did not have healthcare, both those who could be on CHIP for children and Medicaid for those who are older," Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree said. "We found a community who actually had a number of people, 19,000 or so people, who did not have healthcare insurance. About 6,000 or so of those people were eligible for it, and it's a shame that we have 6,000 people within the community that actually were eligible for something like healthcare and did not have the opportunity to do it."
Laura Richard, assistant professor at USM, said because of the success of the program with the initial grant, the city received to additional grants to help expand the education, empowerment and enrollment program.
"We're actually here (Friday) to celebrate what was, I guess the foresight of the city of Hattiesburg in realizing that our community needed better access to healthcare, better access to health insurance, and because of, I guess, that foresight, they were able to partner with the University of Southern Mississippi and get a grant, an initial grant, through the National League of Cities," Richard said. "The success of that grant has now led to two additional grants, one that funds Navigator enrollment and Medicaid and CHIP enrollment, and the other one does just Medicaid and CHIP enrollment. Almost $3 million in funding just for health access that started with just the little thing that the city thought needed to happen."
DuPree said, "It's like seeing a baby. I was telling before it's like having a baby, and then the baby has babies. It started out just Hattiesburg, Forrest county. That kind of locale, just kind of real local. That was the first E3 grant. It went from there to 24 counties. It grew from one county and one city to 24 counties, and the new one is nine counties. Now you all of this going on all around us, so we're actually spreading the wealth. We're actually empowering people. That's what I think universities and cities who, I think, have learned how to do things and do it well, they ought to not just sit on it. They ought to spread the wealth, so that everybody else can learn how to do the same thing."
Richard, who is program administrator for the two new grants - Kids Health Access Collaborative and the Mississippi Health Collaborative - that came out of the E3 Health Initiative, said that is exactly what Hattiesburg is doing, and its partnership with USM is essential to the program's success.
"It brings a unique spin to what we're doing because we're able to have the backing of city government to get our communities, which is then recognized by other city governments and helps us access more people in the communities," Richard said. "We've been presenting all around the United States about the success of the initial initiative. In fact, next week we're going to a public health conference in Denver, which is the largest public health conference in the world to present the success of E3."
DuPree said, "When you look at Mississippi, and you look at us in any category you want to look at, we're always the worst. We're the best of the worst, and that's not good. This is one of those things that we're the best of the best, and that's a good thing. Now we're doing it where other cities and other counties and other states and other people who have foundation money are looking at Hattiesburg, Mississippi. They're looking at The University of Southern Mississippi, and the collaborative that we've formed. They're saying 'You're doing it right, and if you're doing it right, show us how you're doing it.' That's what happened with this almost $3 million grant that we have."
Richard and DuPree said the new money should allow E3 to educate more Mississippians about the importance of healthcare and how to enroll.
"Money give us the ability to hire people who can go out and full-time focus on helping our communities get access to healthcare, to health insurance, to whatever they need," Richard said.