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New Tupelo High School gymnasium officially opens

TUPELO • With the cutting of a yellow ribbon, Tupelo High School’s new multipurpose gymnasium is officially open.

School administrators and coaches were present to commemorate the opening of the $6.6 million facility.

Construction began in November 2017 and wrapped up in June, with a few finishing touches still being added.

So far, the gym has been used for boys and girls basketball practice and a couple of pep rallies. The original gym, which has a maximum capacity of about 1,400 people, is still used for volleyball, physical education classes, cheerleading and activities other than basketball.

The new gymnasium, which doubles as a storm shelter, seats 2,140 people, meaning all 1,940 students at THS can be present for school events or use the gym for protection during severe weather, Principal Art Dobbs said.

And the facility can hold even more people on the open floor in the case of a weather emergency, which is the primary reason for building it, TPSD director of operations Charles Laney said.

“There’s been several tornadoes in this area, and having the largest population of students in the state, that was one thing we were looking at – the safety of the kids,” Laney said. “It’s just an added benefit that we get to use it as a gym.”

The dome-shaped structure can withstand an EF-4 tornado, Laney said. An EF-4 can reach speeds of 200 mph, which is about 80 mph higher than the estimated 111 mph wind speed of the April 2014 tornado that damaged or destroyed 2,000 homes and 100 commercial structures in Tupelo.

A $2.1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency helped cover construction costs for the shelter.

“There’s a great need for FEMA shelters, for safe rooms like this, and we just looked at it as an opportunity to make our campus a lot more safe for our students and staff,” Dobbs said. “We also looked at it as an opportunity to make the community more safe – the bonus part was we get to double up and use it as an athletics facility, too.”

The gymnasium-shelter will be open to the community during severe storms outside of school hours. City officials will come in, take over the facility and protect more than 2,500 community members, if need be.

UMMC, C Spire unveil app for virtual urgent care visits

JACKSON • Mississippians can now have an urgent care clinic in their pocket.

C Spire and the Center for Telehealth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center have launched a mobile app that offers live video visits to diagnose and treat minor medical problems.

“It’s a new world,” said C Spire senior telehealth manager Jack Bobo. “Medical care can go to people where they are.”

The C Spire Health app can be used by anyone in Mississippi, regardless of cell phone carrier. The medical care will be provided by Mississippi licensed nurses practitioners and doctors via video chat. No insurance is required; the visits will cost $59.

C Spire and UMMC leaders believe the app will be particularly helpful to Mississippi residents in rural areas who must travel long distances for health care and older adults with mobility issues, as well as convenient for busy families.

“This will benefit consumers that have few options to access the health care system,” said Kevin Cook, chief executive of the UMMC Health System.

The program, which had a soft launch three weeks ago, is meant to offer treatment for common, non-emergency conditions, including flu, colds, seasonal allergies, strep throat, sore throat, urinary tract infections, earaches, nausea, headaches, poison ivy and poison oak and insect bites.

“It’s not a substitute for relationship-based patient care,” Bobo said. “It gives a lot of people immediate access to care.”

To access the health services, people will download the app, available in the Apple App Store and Google Play, register, answer basic health questions and enter a credit card. Anywhere in Mississippi where people have a smartphone, tablet or computer with a webcam and strong internet access, they can use the health app for a telehealth visit.

They will be able to see the UMMC clinicians available and choose an available appointment. Appointments will be available 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. They will be closed Sundays and holidays.

If the nurse practitioner or doctor decides they need a prescription, it can be sent to the patient’s pharmacy of choice. If the clinician feels the person is dealing with a serious or chronic health condition, the patient will be directed to their primary care provider, a specialist or local emergency department.

“We are committed to ensuring that patients get the best quality and most timely care possible,” Cook said.

Initially, the calls will be handled primarily by nurse practitioners at the UMMC Center for TeleHealth, but UMMC physicians have signed on to handle overflow calls. Eventually, C Spire anticipates they will be able to expand the group of providers taking the calls.

“The hope is it will grow and we will keep adding doctors and clinicians,” Bobo said.

The program has been in development for about two years. UMMC has one of only two accredited Telehealth Centers of Excellence. It has pioneered a number of telehealth services, including remote monitoring of intensive care units and connecting hospitals with UMMC specialists.

The app meets privacy and security regulations for medical information. While C Spire provides the technology, it does not have access to any medical or personal information. That is only available to UMMC.

Telehealth has been growing in the state. Hospitals and emergency departments have used telehealth services to connect with radiologists and neurologists when they aren’t available locally.

North Mississippi Health Services offers telehealth visits with specialists through its larger clinic system. Patients visit the closest NMMC clinic for the telehealth visit, and nurses and other trained health professionals assist with the visit using special medical equipment that allows the specialist to hear heart beats, lungs and look inside ears.

National companies, like Teledoc, are offering urgent care video visits via apps in Mississippi, but they are primarily using out-of-state clinicians. The C Spire Health app will use Mississippi licensed clinicians.

“Our goal is to utilize technology to improve the lives of Mississippi in many facets,” Bobo said. “Health care is obviously a big one of those.”

Local candidates share views on healthcare, education, ethics reform

TUPELO • Around 70 people gathered to listen to candidates running for local office at the Link Centre on Monday night, where candidates addressed issues such as criminal justice reform and diversity in local government offices.

The most notable exchanges at the event came from candidates running for state legislative seats in Northeast Mississippi, who discussed ethics reform, rural healthcare and public education.

For the Mississippi House of Representatives District 16 race, Democratic candidate Rickey Thompson and Independent candidate Steve Holland both agreed that the state Legislature should be more transparent, but had different views on if Holland had been transparent while serving in the Legislature.

Holland, the incumbent, said he thought that Mississippi politicians have the same problem as federal politicians, that they are “bought out” by large donors.

“I think my record reflects that I have been one of the most transparent legislators in history,” Holland said. “I supported every campaign finance reform that came along. I’ll also go so far as to say that I wish we had state-funded campaign financing so the playing field will be level.”

Thompson said he thought it was “time for a change” in the race and said the citizens should elect someone new after 36 years and insinuated that Holland’s campaign as an Independent candidate this election cycle instead of a Democratic candidate leaves questions open about his campaign.

“We definitely need more transparency,” Thompson said. “Any time you have somebody change parties or anything like that, we need more transparency to see where the money’s coming from.”

After the forum, Holland told the Daily Journal he thought Thompson’s insinuation about him switching political parties was not true.

“Do you think I’m going to be a Republican?” Holland asked. “Hell, no. I’m one of the most independent legislators.”

For the Mississippi State Senate’s District 8 race, Republican candidate Benjamin Suber and Democratic candidate Kegan Coleman had similar views on healthcare and both thought the state should do its best to prevent rural hospitals from closing.

“Our rural hospitals are closing each and every day,” Coleman said. “You see a situation where $1.5 billion is being left on the table for our rural hospitals. Money that our folks need.”

Coleman also said he thought the state should make should policy proposals to help rural hospitals from closing by looking at the financial aspects of hospitals.

“My proposal is we’ve got to do more for these local hospitals,” Suber said. “I know here in Lee County we are fortunate. We have access to healthcare. But, a lot of these rural areas we are going to be representing, like Chickasaw County, don’t have an emergency room anymore. That’s unacceptable to me.”

Suber said he was not opposed to expanding healthcare in the state.

For the House District 17 race, Democratic candidate Cathy Grace used much of her allowed time to advocate for expanding early public childhood education in the state and agreed it was one of the most important investments the state should make.

Grace said she thought it was “ridiculous” that the state only paid $170,000 toward pre-kindergarten education.

“We also have excellent outcome scores for children who have attended that program, and it’s not a pipe dream,” Grace said. “There is a way to pay for that program, but it is also going to require us to look at some tax legislation that was passed a couple of years ago.”

Grace also criticized her Republican opponent, state Rep. Shane Aguirre, for not tackling tough issues in the Legislature this past legislative session.

Aguirre did not participate in the forum.

Other candidates who were in attendance and addressed citizens were: Cecilia Griffin, the Democratic candidate for circuit clerk; Joey Grist, the Democratic candidate for Northern District Transportation Commissioner; Randy Ellis, the Democratic candidate for District 2 constable; Tom Henry “Punnie” Lyles, the Democratic candidate for District 4 constable; Charles Heard, the Democratic candidate for District 5 supervisor; Gloria Holliday, the Democratic candidate for tax assessor; Jermandy Jackson, the Democratic candidate for sheriff; Richard Cotton, the Democratic candidate for District 2 supervisor; Eric Hampton and Marilyn Reed, the candidates for justice court judge District 2; and Phyllis Dye and Johnny "Chris" Sadler, the candidates for justice court judge District 3