JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Mississippi has one of the highest death rates in the country for lung disease and asthma. In a listening tour in Jackson the CHEST Foundation, local doctors and other leaders are hoping to bring awareness and answers to those who need help.
They say COVID-19 has made a serious situation even worse. The statistics are staggering. According to the American Lung Association, close to 14 percent of people in the Jackson-area are living with chronic lung disease.
One problem they face with the high number of patients: there are only 26 pulmonologists practicing in Jackson.
Constance Baker said, “I had to put my life on hold like dropping out of school and just basically taking care of my parents.”
Challise Burciaga is a teacher and asthma patient. She said, “I found a quality doctor and I loved the doctor to death. She’s amazing. Unfortunately they don’t accept their insurance any more.”
Hinds County has one of the highest rates of COVID-19 cases. The coronavirus can cause lasting harm to the lungs. The fear for doctors and patients is that this pandemic may push more of them into poverty.
Dr. Demondes Haynes is Associate Dean for Admissions School of Medicine at UMMC. He said, “You can’t make it all about the disease. The patients don’t care how much you know about the disease until they know how much you care.”
Dr. Justin Turner, an internal medicine doctor who operates his own clinic said, “We have a health issue here in Mississippi but we have a bigger heart issue here in Mississippi. It’s not about black and white, it’s not about insured versus uninsured, it’s not about low class versus high class, it’s just about humanity and dignity.”
Dr. John Studdard, a local pulmonologist, helped to bring the Listening Tour to Jackson. Rudy Anderson is the executive director of the CHEST Foundation. He says one hope of the listening tour is that clinicians will listen more to patients and hear their needs.
Anderson said, “If you can’t afford this medication or if I’d ask the right question to realize that this isn’t a medication that you can afford I can find something that you can and I might happen to have enough samples to give you for the next year.”
Anderson says Jackson is the first stop for the listening tour.
The Erin Popovich Endowment is also heavily involved in this effort. She was the wife of NBA coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. She died of lung disease two years ago. Her legacy is making sure every patient has access to the medicine, medical care and equipment they need to battle lung disease.