Health Centers and the Water Crisis in Jackson, Mississippi

Terrence M. Shirley, MPH, is the CEO of the Community Health Center Association of Mississippi

The State of Mississippi emergency managers are reporting that all Jackson residents have water pressure and running water, however, it is still not safe to drink out of the tap and boiling is required before consumption. This includes the actions we take for granted when the water is clean: washing dishes, brushing teeth, cooking food. All residents are being asked to boil water for drinking and other purposes.

Unfortunately, this stage of the water crisis in Jackson — boiling water for consumption — is not new, but a frequent occurrence. Even before national attention was focused on our city and before the recent flooding that was the source of the current water problem, Jackson has been under a “boil water” notice issued by the Mississippi State Department of Health since the end of July, and by the City of Jackson many times before. The national attention due to imminent failure of an understaffed and aging water treatment facility has generated a state and federal response to get the system running again.

For the last week news outlets from around the globe have focused on Jackson with its resident population of 180,000, 85 percent of whom are African American and one-quarter who live in poverty. Water pressure was low or non-existent. Many had no water for basic sanitation for several days.

For the two Community Health Centers that operate in clinics in the city of Jackson, the communities they serve have been in urgent need of basic hydration. Early last week as the crisis was unfolding, I was able to reach out to our partners at Magnolia Health Plan and ask for assistance. Michael Adcock and his team at Magnolia Health were able to provide bottled drinking water to Central Mississippi Health Services and Jackson-Hinds Comprehensive Health Services to distribute to patients. Michael and I worked shoulder to shoulder with health center staff and leaders, unloading the water from the pallets, which contained more than 34,560 ounces of potable bottled water. The caring health center staff also delivered some of the bottled water directly to patients in the community who are homebound and to others who may not have transportation to get to one of the water distribution sites.

Our goal is to provide for the most basic needs of our citizens and our health center patients.

Photo: From Central Miss. Health Services team: Robert Porter, Dr. Tim Rush (back row), Michael Adcock, Magnolia Health Plan, and the author, Terrence M.  Shirley, CEO, Community Health Center Association of Mississippi.