School acquires $1.2 million



The School of Social Work at The University of Southern Mississippi will soon have the opportunity to expand their reach beyond the Hattiesburg area. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have awarded the school more than $1.2 million in Affordable Care Act funding. The funds will make it easier for people in southern Mississippi to sign up for health care coverage in 2016.

Navigating the health care system can be tedious and confusing. The School of Social Work seeks to assist with the application process.

Michael Forster, dean of the College of Health, is the principal investigator for the health access project. He explained who would be affected by this expansion and how it will be helpful.

“The beneficiaries of the project are uninsured individuals and families in Mississippi’s three southernmost health care districts eligible for health insurance under the landmark Affordable Care Act,” Forster said. “Assessing options and matching them to people’s needs is complicated, to say the least, hence the value of providing trained navigators to help in the process.”

Navigators are trained specialists who use their expertise to make health insurance more understandable by answering questions and guiding consumers while they apply. The School of Social Work will aid the health access project by hiring a project coordinator and three navigators.

“Navigators will engage in two different types of tasks: in-reach, where they will recruit and train agency personnel who will help individuals enroll, and out-reach, where they will bring services to community agencies such as WIC distribution centers,” said Laura Richard, assistant professor of social work and project co-director.

Graduate students in the School of Social Work will also be trained on the enrollment process. Students will be more capable of helping people find the health care plans that best fit their financial situation and personal needs as they complete internships with state agencies.

“As an applied discipline the goal is that we not only engage in scholarship for students and faculty, but that we do something for the community,” said Tim Rehner, director of the School of Social Work. “In Mississippi, there are many social determinates that prevent people from having access to health care. This project provides a unique opportunity for the School of Social Work to make a difference in the health and well-being of residents.”

Funding will expand these needed services outside of Hattiesburg and into 24 other counties in Mississippi. The project is in relation to the E3 Health Initiative of the city of Hattiesburg and School of Social Work. E3 stands for Educate, Enroll, Empower—three goals that the initiative and this new project share. The idea is to reduce the number of uninsured children and families

in Mississippi. “I am very proud of the success the City of Hattiesburg’s E3 Health Initiative has had over the past 12 months,” said Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPree. “Many Hattiesburg children and families now have health coverage through Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Plan as a result of E3 efforts to simplify the enrollment process and to make health coverage more accessible. Our long-term partnership with the Southern Miss School of Social Work has again resulted in an opportunity to maintain and extend needed services.”

The grant will begin positively affecting Mississippi as soon as Nov. 1, when Marketplace Open Enrollment begins. The Marketplace will allow consumers to compare and contrast different plans. Funding will help connect these people with local assistance as they sift through their options.

“I have always believed that if we could solve problems in Mississippi, we can solve those problems across the nation,” DuPree said. “Earning the Navigator Grant due to the success of a City of Hattiesburg program is proof that we are well on the way to doing just that.”