Every day at South Delta Middle School in Anguilla, Tammy Fordham Bell tries to fill the gap in health-care services and education in a rural Delta county where there are no pediatricians.
The Leland native drives from campus to campus in the South Delta school district to provide hands-on care to about 1,100 Sharkey County children. On any given day, Bell circulates among four campuses to provide abstinence education and give sports physicals. She counsels teens who are pregnant and ensures they get car seats if they can’t afford them.
She teaches personal hygiene, and directs medical and nursing students in delivering hands-on health care to children in need of services.
Bell “works tirelessly to ensure that teenagers of the Mississippi Delta have adequate information on abuse, prevention, and healthy lifestyle choices,” said Michael Jones, deputy director of the Myrlie Evers-Williams Institute for the Elimination of Health Disparities at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. “She strongly encourages others to make wise decisions today that will affect their future health.”
For her exemplary efforts, Bell has been named a Rural Health Champion as part of National Rural Health Day. She was the choice of a selection committee formed by the Institute, an organization committed to improving health and health-care delivery systems in rural Mississippi communities.
“I love working with the children,” said Bell, a mother of seven and professional health educator for UMMC’s School of Nursing and its Mercy Delta Express Project. “Children are my passion.”
South Delta Middle School
Today, UMMC will declare her Rural Health Champion in a ceremony at South Delta Middle, where Bell is based. Her honor spotlights the fact that Sharkey County, where almost 36 percent of residents live below the poverty level, has so few health-care resources.
During their physical exams on children, Bell said, she and her team have discovered diseases, including cancer. Children who are ill are often referred to a physician in Rolling Fork and to a number of UMMC pediatric specialists, she said. That includes Dr. Lisa Haynie, who directs the Mercy Delta Express program.
Some of her work can be heart-breaking.
“The hardest times are when I see teenagers who are hurting due to relationship issues, such as teenage pregnancy, early parenting and emotional scars,” Bell said. “I’m a pastor’s wife as well, so prayer gets me through – that, and being able to mentor kids and encourage them.”
Bell and others like her are making a measurable difference, Jones said.
“Those who provide rural health-related services have both an opportunity and a challenge to provide innovative, affordable and holistic primary care,” Jones said.
“In spite of these obstacles, they accept the challenge and succeed in making notable contributions in health, health care, and health-care delivery systems.”