Accessibility links


Health Clinic in Mississippi Caters to Uninsured

America's southern Missippi Delta region has some of the richest soil in the country. But it is home to some of America's poorest people. Many have no health insurance, no doctor and often forego desperately needed treatments. But one Roman Catholic nun and physician is changing all that in a tiny town - Tutwiler, Mississippi. One clinic treats more than 8,000 patients each year.

Tutwiler, Mississippi is a long way down the road from the comforts of everyday America. This downtown died long ago. There's a liquor store. And a grocery store. With not much for sale.

From these tracks, Delta Blues music spread to the rest of the world. Some here live a life of the blues. A third of the families fall below the poverty line.

But they do have one thing: the Tutwiler Health Clinic - low cost, even no cost, healthcare. "We don't ask people at the door before we see them [to] pay the money. It's a matter of seeing the patient, whatever they need," said Dr. Anne Brooks, a Roman Catholic nun, who runs the clinic.

A patient at the clinic, Melrick Payne pays what he can for health care - $15 a month. "That means everything. That means I can actually afford to stay healthy without having to spend a lot of money for it," he said.

Tutwiler does not have a hospital. The closest is 25 kilometers away - by car - which many do not have. And if they do, they need money for gas.

Like Timothy Lane. Another doctor assures Lane that the clinic will give him money for gas.

"The poverty here is hidden. It's unexpected. It's poverty that shouldn't be in any condition, anyplace, anywhere in the world," Brooks said.

Nearly three out of four new patients have no way to pay. So, Dr. Brooks accepts whatever they can afford, whenever they can afford it. Somedays that might include a bushel of squash or the day's catch of catfish.

The clinic gets three-fourths of its income from donations, from people like Ken and Dianne Allen. They started sending donations 20 years ago after learning about the clinic.

"It just touched my heart and so I said to Ken, 'We have to do something,'" Allen said.

They've been sending money ever since, but this was their first visit.

Many of the patients share the same health concerns. The state of Mississippi has the highest rate of obesity in the U.S. Doctors partly blame that on traditional fatty foods that date back generations.

Patient Melrick Payne is 34 years old and weighs 197 kilograms. "What's happening now is you weigh more than two people. So, you are asking your heart to beat for two people," Sister Anne told him.

"It's hard. It's a way of life, the way we eat, just different things it's so unhealthy for us and when you get old it catches up with us and that's the point where I am now, so," Payne said.

The clinic fights that culture with education.

Gwendolyn Payton just lost four kilograms. "In other words, by me losing my weight, it's helping my heart, right?," she asked.

"Absolutely!" replied Brooks.

She has run the clinic for nearly 30 years. "God has made this possible. I have a huge amount of faith that it will continue whatever way God wants it to continue.As long as I'm alive and well and love what I'm doing we'll stay open," Brooks said.

Tutwiler, Mississippi does not have jobs or wealth. What it does have is a 72-year-old nun who enrichs lives in another way. By extending them.

"I'm thankful for you, Dr. Brooks, I'll tell you," Payton said.