UMMC fills OB-GYN care gap in DeltaPublished on Monday, May 8, 2023By: Ruth CumminsPhotos By: Melanie Thortis/ UMMC CommunicationsGreenwood mom of three Maessa Washington lives in a community that has just one obstetrician-gynecologist. She’s the better part of an hour from the nearest hospital that delivers babies.But Washington, whose fourth child is due in July, is confident in her prenatal care and the plan for her to give birth at the University of Mississippi Medical Center Grenada. She’s grateful for Dr. Murry Adams, her OB-GYN at the UMMC Greenwood Women’s Clinic, and his team of women’s health nurse practitioners.“I love her,” Washington says of Heather Wilkey, her nurse practitioner. “She takes good care of me.”Washington is among hundreds receiving care close to home at the clinic on 203 Ninth St., just off the city’s downtown and across from Greenwood Leflore Hospital. Nurse practitioners Wilkey, Tracey Mullins and Lindsay Wynne, all former caregivers at the Greenwood hospital, have combined their decades of experience to join Adams in treating the patient population they love.The care team at UMMC Greenwood Women's Clinic includes OB-GYN Dr. Murry Adams, center; and from left, women's health nurse practitioners Nekesha Johnson, Lindsay Wynne, Tracey Mullins and Heather Wilkey.In mid-October 2022, UMMC took over operations of the Greenwood hospital’s OB-GYN and pediatric clinics so that residents in the region could continue to receive those services. It followed the Greenwood hospital’s decision earlier that month to close its labor and delivery unit.As availability of maternal health care in Mississippi shrinks, “a lot of our patients here have less access to transportation and to a higher level of care overall,” said Adams, a lifelong Greenwood resident who is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology. “The goal is to keep as much of the higher-level care here as possible, and for patients to deliver their babies at UMMC Grenada.“To say to some pregnant patients that you have to go to Jackson (for care) is significant, and to tell someone who’s pregnant they have to go to Jackson every two weeks might not be feasible for them. Being under the UMMC umbrella makes it possible for them to get the same care at home.”Washington hopes the trip to UMMC Grenada will be uneventful, especially because her first three children were significantly premature.“Some people don’t have transportation. And if you’re in pain, you might not feel like driving,” she said. “Having this clinic close by is really good.”McElmurray“We are surrounding the community with OB-GYN care, including surgeries and deliveries at UMMC Grenada, so that we can meet the needs in the region,” said Dodie McElmurray, chief executive officer at UMMC Grenada and its sister hospital, UMMC Holmes County in Lexington.After Greenwood Leflore Hospital closed its labor and delivery unit, McElmurray said, deliveries at UMMC Grenada more than doubled. From November 2021-February 2022, UMMC Grenada delivered 80 babies. But from November 2022-February 2023, that jumped to 163.Not just Leflore County, but multiple Delta counties send patients to the Greenwood OB-GYN clinic. The current load of pregnant patients, about 125, “come from throughout the Delta and into north Mississippi,” Mullins said.Adams through February had treated 475 patients. The nurse practitioner team had treated 985 through February, and many patients have visited multiple times.“We are growing our service lines to meet the current and future needs of the population, to improve women’s health, and to decrease infant mortality,” McElmurray said. That includes recruiting two additional OB-GYN physicians, she said.Adams shares his time between the Greenwood and Grenada women’s clinics. And even though the Greenwood clinic is the same space where the Greenwood hospital offered women’s care, the team worries that some current and future patients believe services are no longer available because the Greenwood hospital is no longer delivering babies.UMMC’s clinic “is still right here to provide prenatal and post-birth care and all women’s health care, including well women visits,” Mullins said. “We have not cut back on any of our services.”“Last year, we scheduled patients to come back in a year, but some of them don’t understand that we are still here,” Wilkey said. “They ask, ‘Where are you now?’ and I say, ‘The same place we’ve always been.’”New and returning patients can get an appointment, generally within the space of a week, by calling (662) 227-7020. “I’ve been in the Delta in my practice since 1996, and the majority of my years have been in Leflore County,” Mullins said. “I have a patient who I took care of when she was pregnant, and now I’m taking care of that child, and she’s pregnant. I’ve had two babies of patients named after me. That brought tears to my eyes.”It’s by design that Murry came home. “I’ve always had a heart to serve medically underserved areas, and Greenwood is a special place,” said Adams, who completed medical school at Virginia Tech University and his OB-GYN residency at UMMC.“This community has given so much to me, and I want to be able to give back. There’s something special about being able to provide care to people that otherwise wouldn’t have women’s health care in the Delta,” he said.The Greenwood clinic provides comprehensive care, with patients receiving some services and procedures at UMMC Grenada. Women with high-risk pregnancies generally make a visit to a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at UMMC’s Jackson campus, then receive their remaining care in Greenwood.“She’s kicking really good,” Washington said during an April 6 appointment. Wilkey gently measured the “fundal height” of the baby, using a tape measure to correlate in centimeters the number of weeks pregnant Washington should be.“You’re right at 25 weeks,” Wilkey said.“I hope she doesn’t try to come early,” Washington told her.Adams sees the full spectrum of OB-GYN issues. “We work closely with their primary care provider, but for a significant portion, this is their first contact point for a physician. You start digging, and you see they have chronic health conditions that are serious in addition to their OB-GYN needs.”Some patients haven’t had a Pap smear or breast exam in several years, meaning cancers could go unchecked. “That’s why we are trying to be proactive and let people know we’re here for them,” Wilkey said.Adams refers some patients to specialists on the Jackson campus – for example, an endocrinologist or rheumatologist - for that higher level of care not available in small communities. “The benefit of me practicing at UMMC is that I have all of those people to consult with, including maternal-fetal medicine and oncology for cancer,” he said.When a patient goes into labor, 45 minutes might be enough time to make it to the Grenada hospital – or not.“We are telling them to be ready, and those conversations begin when they are 36 weeks pregnant,” Adams said. “We’re trying to schedule as many deliveries as we can.”“A lot of women want to labor at home for as long as possible,” Wilkey said. “We tell them that if your contractions are 12 to 15 minutes apart, let’s get you to Grenada. If you don’t think you can drive, call 911 and the ambulance will take you to Grenada.”Adams and wife Louise are raising three children: Witten, a 4-year-old boy; Elsie, age 2; and six-month-old son Aubrey. “This is truly where I want to practice medicine, and I can make it what I think the Delta really needs,” Adams said.“Given our current health disparities, we feel it’s important to focus our energy in the region and grow to meet the needs, now and in the future,” McElmurray said.