Melvia Sumrall kicked breast cancer in 2005, but a decade later finds herself facing her old nemesis.
After coughing up blood in January, the Flowood resident called her physician, Dr. John Cross, assistant professor of medicine, who sees patients at the University of Mississippi Medical Center's Grants Ferry clinic. She soon found herself at UMMC's Cancer Institute, located at the Jackson Medical Mall.
Sumrall saw Dr. Barbara Craft, associate professor of oncology, on Jan. 29. "That was when I decided that was where I need to be," said Sumrall, a court administrator.
"From the minute I walked into the door, from the man who stands in front of the Medical Mall door to the appointment clerks to the lab techs, everybody is concerned about what you're going through, and how they can help," said Sumrall, 61, who's completing chemotherapy before undergoing surgery at UMMC.
Sumrall has much in common with patients who together logged a total 182,659 visits in fiscal year 2014 to UMMC's 44 health clinics located within the Jackson Medical Mall off Woodrow Wilson Avenue at Bailey Avenue Extension.
That's 182,659 times that someone traveled, either alone or with family or friends, to the former shopping mall to seek specialized medical care ranging from sickle cell disease management to genetic counseling to diagnosis and treatment of cancers, many of them rare and aggressive.
The patient visit totals are huge - but, it's not all about the numbers, said Dr. Srinivasan Vijayakumar, professor of radiation oncology and director of the Cancer Institute. "We are providing a very important service to Mississippians, and we especially cater to cancer care," Vijayakumar said.
"What this really tells us is that we have a large population of people diagnosed with serious illnesses, and due to the vast number of health care services the Medical Mall provides, this is almost like a lighthouse in a stormy sea for them,' said Rich Griffith, director of ambulatory operations and informatics for UMMC's Jackson Medical Mall clinics. "The Medical Mall is a help and healing for many of our patients."
The Cancer Institute alone houses almost half of UMMC's clinics at the Medical Mall. "We have every gamut of services that can be provided, and it's all under one roof," said Terrence Shirley, the Cancer Institute's administrator.
The number of patients served by the 44 clinics has steadily grown due to relationships with the health-care operations on the main UMMC campus and its clinics around the metro, Shirley said. Patients initially seen at one of those locations are often referred for continuing care at clinics in the Medical Mall. "For example, someone may send a patient to our hematology clinic after they've been diagnosed," Shirley said.
Dr. Lana Jackson, associate professor of otolaryngology and communicative science, examines the mouth of patient Bettye Lovelady during a Cancer Institute-sponsored oral cancer screening event.
From their first appointment at one of the clinics, Shirley and Vijayakumar said, patients become part of a health-care philosophy that hinges on a single system focused on patients and their families.
"One health episode got them to UMMC, and that patient realized that it's much easier to get the whole person taken care of at one institution, rather than multiple locations," Shirley said. "Then, their family members start coming. They spread by word of mouth that they're satisfied with the services provided."
Clinics recording some of the heaviest visit traffic include hematology, dialysis, mammogram and orthopedics. Others, such as clinics for seizure disorders, muscular dystrophy or audiology, have significantly lower visit numbers, yet offer care so specialized that patients might not find it in other areas of the state.
The clinics take a multidisciplinary approach to getting all of a patient's health-care problems addressed under one roof. "We do what we can to schedule meeting all of their needs in only one visit," Shirley said.
That's the mindset at UMMC's outpatient dialysis clinic, which can see up to 86 patients daily, depending on the day of the week, said clinical director Mary Luckett.
During dialysis treatments that can take up to six hours, she said, patients can get nutrition tips from the clinic's three dietitians and help from four social workers. "If they have a dental problem, the dentist is right upstairs. They can have their eyes checked upstairs," she said. "Some may go to an oncology appointment, and then walk to us."
UMMC registered dietitian Paul Robertson takes the weight and height measurements of patient Edna Taylor of Bentonia.
UMMC dietitians at the Medical Mall also care for cancer, cardiac and diabetes patients, said registered dietitian Dacia Breeden. "We try to help them understand how nutrition can play a role in their recovery," she said. "We've seen a big growth in our patient population. The more nourished they are, the better they can handle and complete what could be a very difficult treatment."
Patients whose diseases are managed at the Monday sickle cell clinic often don't feel well when they visit, making it important that as many of their needs are met as possible in one Medical Mall trip, said Dr. Tondre Buck, assistant professor of hematology and one of the clinic's physicians.
Jimmie Lacey of Brandon, 42, is a regular patient at the sickle cell clinic held Mondays at the Jackson Medical Mall. Lacey receives counseling and treatment there from staff including nurse practitioner Dana Delaski.
The clinic is growing, he said, with the staff generally seeing at least two new patients a week, many referred by doctors outside the metro. "You hope to help them manage all of their chronic issues to keep them from having to seek urgent care so often," Buck said of the blood disorder that often causes excruciating pain.
A few of the clinics are considered best-kept secrets because the general public may not know they exist, among them management of chronic pain; oral oncology for those suffering often rare cancers of the lips, teeth, gums and lining of the mouth, or who need basic dental exams before undergoing treatment for cancer; and the primary-care dental clinic staffed by School of Dentistry faculty and students. That clinic is a resource not just for those needing basic dental care, but also for patients with acute dental problems and those who may have medical or psychological health challenges.
Thousands of patients take advantage of specialized imaging and radiation treatment offered on site by the Cancer Institute. Those services, many of them available nowhere else in the state except the Cancer Institute, include total body irradiation. That's when a patient's body is totally irradiated to destroy or suppress his immune system before he receives a bone marrow transplant on the main UMMC campus. The patient receives post-operative care at the bone marrow transplant clinic within the Cancer Institute.
Entrance to the Cancer Institute at the Jackson Medical Mall
Part of the clinics' success is the ease of accessibility. The Medical Mall, in the city's Midtown, is minutes from I-55 and I-220, and it's consider an anchor of the city's developing health-care corridor. UMMC clinics take up 80 percent of the Medical Mall's 1 million square feet, Shirley said. The Mall is at tenant capacity, but the clinics themselves are not.
"We have 5,000 cars coming into the Jackson Medical Mall every day, but there's no problem finding parking," Shirley said. "That's the beauty of it. We have valet parking, and we have a scooter running around the parking lot that will pick you up and deliver you to the doors."
Once inside the Mall, "If they're not feeling well and going from the radiation oncology clinic to orthopedics, one of our internal golf carts will take them there," Shirley said.
The UMMC clinics have an agreement with the Jackson Medical Mall Foundation to provide rides for patients who have difficulty traveling, and Medicaid arranges transportation for patients who qualify. The city bus line also runs to the Medical Mall. And, the Cancer Institute refers out-of-town patients receiving a regimen of radiation treatments to free or low-cost housing.
Creature comforts and convenience are good extras, Shirley and Vijayakumar said, but patients come to the UMMC clinics because they want world-class care. "What I hear, day in and day out, is how well we have treated a patient in the course of their disease process," Shirley said.
"The visits themselves tell you that we have room for growth, and a base of patients who will need care throughout their life. There are current conversation to move additional clinics here," Griffith said. "This is where people come when they are really sick."
For Sumrall, her doctors and treatment in UMMC's radiation oncology clinic at the Jackson Medical Mall are a beacon of hope.
"For what I'm going through, it has been the most pleasant experience I could have asked for," Sumrall said. "To know you have a place where you can go where people welcome you and answer your questions and are truly concerned … It just means the world."