‘What happened?’ Health Department to hire stranger to assess Mississippi’s COVID-19 response

How well has Mississippi responded to the COVID-19 pandemic? The health department hires an outside contractor to answer this question.

The contractor, who is expected to begin work in early November, will conduct interviews with people involved in a wide range of pandemic response efforts, from contact tracing and COVID testing to hospital operations and public information. . They will prepare an “after action report” that will reconstruct and analyze Mississippi’s response — including how state and local agencies followed emergency response plans — and offer suggestions for improvement.

Ministry staff typically prepare after action reports following disasters or public health emergencies. But due to the scale of the pandemic response, which spanned more than 800 days, the department is hiring a contractor this time around, Jim Craig, senior deputy and director of health protection, said in a communicated to Mississippi Today.

Craig said the report will be used to improve pandemic planning and preparedness. The department will use federal funds to pay the contractor.

Just under 13,000 Mississippians have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to health department data. Nearly 900,000 cases have been reported in the state.

In the first year of the pandemic, Mississippi was often one of the first states to ease restrictions on masking and crowds in public places. Months after Governor Tate Reeves lifted the state’s mask mandate, as cases spiked during the delta wave, he called the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation for indoor masking ‘stupid’ .

Mississippi has had the highest per capita death toll of any state in the country, with 427 deaths per 100,000 people, according to The New York Times. The national average was 311.

A report by the nonprofit Commonwealth Fund released in June ranked Mississippi’s pandemic response last among 50 states and the District of Columbia. Mississippi performed particularly poorly on premature deaths from treatable causes — ranked 51st — and out-of-pocket medical costs.

Mississippi also had the nation’s largest percentage increase in the drug overdose death rate from 2019 to 2020, according to the Commonwealth Fund.

The report produced for the health department will take a closer look at the inner workings of the agency’s pandemic response. The analysis will answer questions such as:

– “What happened? What was supposed to happen based on current plans, policies and procedures?

– Was there a difference? What was the impact?

– Do the plans, policies and procedures support the activities and associated tasks?

– Are the MSDH workers familiar with these documents?

According to the RFP, the state recently hosted feedback sessions with regional health department team members. The results of these sessions will be shared with the contractor chosen to write the report.

The 59-page request gives a sense of the scope of the state’s response to the pandemic, which involved thousands of people working at the health department, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) , Mississippi Department of Social Services, Mississippi State University Extension Service, Animal Health Council, National Guard and Environmental Quality Department, and private contractors .

The state had operated 916 testing sites as of April 7, 2022 and processed more than 3,200,000 PCR tests by the end of April.

The contract will last until early November 2023 but may be renewed by the Ministry of Health for an additional year.

The department also hired an outside contractor to assess its response to Hurricane Katrina.

“Lessons learned from the Katrina after-action report have strengthened the health and medical response to the Mississippi hurricanes,” Craig said.

— Article credit to Mississippi Today’s Isabelle Taft —