STATE TRYING TO STOP LOCAL
DOCTOR'S MEDICAL MINISTRY
By Barbara Harris
Jackson Advocate News Service
September 30, 2004
While People magazine praises, “Dr. Ron Myers treats the Mississippi Delta’s long legacy of poverty and racism – one patient at a time,” the physician says the state’s malpractice insurance company is attempting to halt his tireless efforts.
People’s Sept. 13 feature article, “Healing the Past” by Bob Meadows, lauds Myers’ medical ministry and points out that he is still “making house calls to those too frail or isolated to reach him,” a long-obsolete practice in this country.
Myers, 48, logs some 50,000 miles per year traveling remote, sometimes nearly impassibly muddy Delta back roads to treat patients.
“I need a pickup truck for this,” he told Meadows on a rainy-morning ride-along in June after a close encounter with getting stuck in the mud.
Even with his family – wife Sylvia, son Joshua and daughter Neoma – staff and volunteer medical students helping out, there is little downtime for the hardworking Baptist minister/doctor/activist.
That rare time is often spent playing jazz piano for charitable and community causes.
About the poverty-stricken, health care-deficient Mississippi Delta, Myers tells People, “This is America’s Third World.”
Despite his commitment to providing medical care to citizens of one of the nation’s most depressed regions via clinics in Tchula, Belzoni, Greenville, Indianola and formerly Tupelo, Myers says his ability to practice is being threatened by the Medical Assurance Company of Mississippi.
As a result of Mississippi’s new controversial tort reform legislation, MACM has been given sole discretion in providing malpractice insurance to doctors, establishing what some characterize as “a virtual monopoly on malpractice coverage.”
“What they really have is an oligarchy. They (MACM) control everything because they decide who to cover, how much to charge for that coverage and ultimately, who can practice,” Dr. Frank McCune contends. “There’s no one to regulate them.”
An oligarchy is a form of government in which power is in the hands of a few.
Dr. Myers contends he is “a victim of malpractice lynching” because of his activism on behalf of chronic pain sufferers.
“(AMA president-elect) Dr. Edward Hill and the (all-white) MACM board of directors’ morally reprehensible actions came as a result of my request for malpractice coverage for my family practice office in Tupelo,” Myers says.
“My request for malpractice insurance was denied by Dr. Edward Hill and the MACM board of directors because of concerns about me treating former chronic pain patients of Dr. John McFadden,” he explains.
“Your practice in Tupelo, at least initially, involves more than 100 former pain patients of Dr. John McFadden, who recently had his medical license revoked by the Mississippi State Board of Medical Licensure,” MACM CEO Michael D. Houpt wrote in a Sept. 20 letter to Myers.
“Your involving Dr. McFadden in your proposed practice in Tupelo office; and most importantly, the Committee felt that it would not be possible for a solo practitioner who already had four clinics in the Delta to render proper care to patients in a clinic so far remote from your primary practice location.”
Houpt’s office said he is on vacation and the Advocate was unable to reach him before press time for comment on MACM’s decision.
Myers had previously stated his position in an Aug. 9 letter to MACM.
“…I do not appreciate Dr. Hill and the MACM board of directors’ policies of medical malpractice racism, medical malpractice social engineering and medical malpractice redlining,” an accusatory Myers wrote.
MACM also cancelled Myers coverage on his other four clinics as of Jan. 1, 2005 because he failed to yield to what he calls “unethical” risk management department demands.
The MACM risk management department requested he provide what Myers contends are privacy-protected patient medical records.
He says he informed MACM he could not release patient medical records in violation of their privacy rights. The company then insisted their policy permits such exceptions.
Myers disagrees. He doesn’t believe a state-run company has the authority to supercede court-mandated doctor-patient confidentiality privileges.
“The policy of the Myers Foundation Christian Family Health Centers will only allow you to review the medical records of those patients who give us written permission,” he wrote.
“We do not want to be sued by patients for violating their privacy or to alienate them from our Christian medical ministry.”
In fact, Dr. Myers believes his record, which stands for itself, should determine his malpractice eligibility.
“I have never been sued for medical malpractice for my family medicine office practice during my entire medical career,” he says.
He has practiced medicine in the Mississippi Delta for 16 years.
They are using the Tupelo clinic to shut me down completely,” Myers says. “I haven’t seen a patient at the Tupelo clinic in months, since they said they wouldn’t renew my coverage. They certainly can’t justify shutting down all my clinics.”
Ronald V. Myers is indeed a unique and rare individual whose motivation is shrouded in civil and human rights.
He told People his compelling story, a story that has long drawn the admiration of such heavyweights as renowned television movie mogul Aaron Spelling, who has been gathering information for a small screen feature on the crusader.
…The son of Marion, 77, and Neoma, 75, both retired educators, he grew up middle-class in Milwaukee admiring the Black Panthers, Malcolm X and his dad.
“My father was always advocating for his students. I learned all this agitating from him…”
As a freshman premed student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he was inspired by a pastor who challenged him to use his education to help the poor and a meeting with famed activist Fannie Lou Hamer.
“She said she could see that one day I’d be down in the Mississippi Delta, working with her people. That was what I wanted to do from then on.”
After graduating from medical school in 1985 and marrying Sylvia two years later, Myers fulfilled Hamer’s prophecy. He moved to the Delta as part of the National Health Service Corps, which sends doctors to underserved areas.
While serving in Belzoni, Myers noticed that Tchula didn’t have any doctors.
“Health officials said Tchula was too poor to have a doctor. What kind of logic is that?”
He and Sylvia opened the Tchula Family Health Center in an abandoned restaurant, running up thousands of dollars of debt on their American Express card.
Since then, Myers’ efforts have made a difference: Fewer women wait until their final trimester to seek prenatal care, breast cancer and strokes have dropped, and he says even childhood diseases like pinkeye have plummeted.
“Doc is educating women [about] why he has to examine their breasts, why he’s asking them if they’re sexually active, why they need to have mammograms routinely,” says Sylvia Myers. “He needs to be a rabble-rouser.”
Now Myers is taking his activism far beyond Holmes County. Earlier this year, he traveled to Kenya to plan a program to train doctors and provide health care. But hometown patients remain his priority.
The People article also pointed out that Myers is now taking on the responsibility of treating some of the state’s 65,000 patients who were dropped from Medicaid.
“(He) is part of the community – whether it’s praying, farming or catfish,” former Tchula mayor Eddie Carthan told People.
Myers has agitated on numerous levels, often raising the ire of numerous whites, including catfish farmers, especially after calling for an Occupational Safety and Health Administration inspection of a catfish processing plant.
Much to the disdain of organizers of the annual industry-sponsored catfish festival in Belzoni, Myers holds a buffalo fish festival on the same day.
His activism apparently rubs detractors the wrong way.
“He claims to be 14 types of Jesus leading everyone to the Promised Land,” Dick Stevens of Country Select told People. “He’s a smart guy, but he’s way out in left field.”
Responding to that statement, Myers said this week, “I’ve never told anyone I was any type of Jesus, let alone 14 types. I’m just doing God’s work – just doing what’s right. Can Dick Stevens say that?
“Black people who’ve demand their rights have always been said to be ‘way out in left field.’ If the playing field was level, maybe they wouldn’t say we are ‘way out in left.”
To support the rights of chronic pain patients and prevent malpractice insurance discrimination against the doctors who treat them, Myers has established the American Pain Institute.
In addition, Myers is leading the fight for a national Juneteenth holiday to commemorate the news of the ending of slavery in this country and is a staunch supporter of the reparations movement – both touchy subjects, to say the least, with white Americans.
For more information or to offer support, call (662) 247-1471.