Dr. Carl Reddix wasn't looking for national media attention when he agreed to serve on the Mississippi Board of Health, but if it has people talking about public-health policy in Mississippi, he'll take it.
Last summer, former Gov. Haley Barbour nominated Reddix, an OB/GYN at Reddix Medical Group, to serve on the state Board of Health. Reddix served on the board until April, when he learned that Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves had not referred his confirmation to the Senate Health Committee because of his ties to the Jackson Women's Health Organization, Mississippi's only abortion clinic.
"(Reeves) felt that his association with the abortion clinic was not appropriate in a role that would shape health policy for the state," Laura Hipp, a spokeswoman for Reeves, told the Jackson Free Press. Gov. Phil Bryant has since appointed another person to the board.
Reddix has agreed to care for the abortion clinic's patients if they need to go to a hospital. He has what are called "hospital admitting privileges." If that phrase sounds familiar, it's because Bryant recently signed HB 1390 into law, which would require all doctors who perform abortions at abortion clinics to have those privileges. Supporters of the law say admitting privileges will help protect women's health. They also say it will likely force the clinic to close.
Although he doesn't take losing his seat on the Board of Health personally, Reddix says his situation shows that the lieutenant governor has too much say in the confirmation process, which should be the Senate's job.
"I understand the political realities, so that's not my issue," he said.
Reddix, 53, has no intention of remaining silent about public-health issues in Mississippi, however, even if it's not from a seat on the board. A Biloxi native, he graduated from Tougaloo College and moved to the northeast, earning degrees from Tufts University School of Medicine and Harvard University. He completed his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He always wanted to come back to Mississippi, though, and eventually returned to the state to open a practice with his wife, Natalie Brookins-Reddix, and his brother, Michael.
"As a provider and (as someone) in public health, I think I see things that most people ignore, and my job is to bring them to the forefront and work toward making some of these incremental, positive changes," he said.
He lives in Jackson and has three children, Joseph, Lacey and Nia.
You said you understand the political realities; I wonder if you could flesh that out a little bit. What do you think that political reality looks like?
Well, I think the elected officials have to play to their base, whoever they think that is. And the question is whether our state leaders choose to be servants of the fringe or statesmen for us all. Clearly, we don't have very many statesmen. We've got some politicians, but our statesmen are limited, which has been true throughout governance and democracy. ...
All politicians have to listen to their base and make sure they get re-elected; ultimately, that's their central focus. But when you have major issues, as we do in our state, especially regarding health care and the needs of its citizens, I just believe that it's an easy place for people to hold off their political base and much easier to be statesmen, because you can't profess to be Christian and then not really care about the masses. I think it's a lot easier to hold those type views if you're talking about basic health care services. Unfortunately for me, this whole ruckus was over providing potentially necessary health care services to needy women. ...
We as physicians make recommendations for people to end pregnancies in general because of major anomalies with the developing fetus, especially those anomalies that are incompatible with life. I mean, it doesn't make any sense to me to recommend or to force someone to carry a baby to term when that baby has anomalies and injuries--birth defects--that are incompatible with life.
It's never easy for women to undergo elective terminations; it's not easy when women have miscarriages. Both those things should be looked at from the same perspective, for outsiders, and especially for us men. It's a big deal for women. It's never callous, and it's never without lots of introspection. Unfortunately, they're usually going through these things alone and, even when we (doctors) are making recommendations that this pregnancy is incompatible with life and a strong recommendation would be for you to terminate, it's still a very emotionally damaging process that takes women their lifetimes to come to grips with. ...
Until you've been in that situation, you don't know what you're going to do. And all the pro-choice argument says is that it's that individual's choice and not government's choice to dictate (to) people, so I think that's the issue: Until you've walked in that person's shoes, you have no idea what their realities are, and clearly in our state, we don't have enough resources to help folks who are in need of all the personal services required to not only take care of children, but especially children that have birth defects. It's a very difficult thing to do, and I personally think it's wrong to put their lives in danger with a baby, a pregnancy we know is incompatible with life outside of the uterus.
From the medical side, thank God bad birth defects don't happen that often, but when they do, they're still just as--probably more--emotionally challenging than at any other time in someone's life. They have to face not having a perfect baby and then knowing that that baby will not be able to survive outside the womb. All of these are kind of peripheral issues that are just as germane in this argument and never get a voice. We're forcing our views on everyone--rape, incest; I mean, all sorts of other variables that are relevant, that people just have a rigid view about.
I think that from a public health perspective, you just cannot be rigid when you're talking about health-care services; it's an art. It's a science. It's not an exact choice that's very clear between what is right for any one person. Everybody's different, everybody's body is different, and the challenge for us is to try to make sure that we maximize that individual's best option for disease prevention and better health for their short- and long-term lives.
Do you think there are any issues or priorities in the abortion debate that both sides could agree on?
I would have thought that the issue which they brought against me would have been one of those issues. My participation was to make sure that any young woman who had a major complication had easy access to the hospital, which is what I provided. ...
In all honestly, I have had this, as I call it, loose affiliation for so long (more than a decade) and got so few calls that it was not even an issue for me. I had forgotten that I was even their provider because I don't get called very often--just a few times, a couple times within the last 10 years. ...
To answer your question: Is there any compromise? Obviously not, if you don't want any of the community physicians to provide needed care during a major complication where you need hospitalization. ... It's either they use someone like me who said, "Call me if there's an issue, and I'll take care of them," or you just show up at the emergency room, and one of my colleagues is going to be forced to take care of them.
But you don't do abortions yourself, do you?
Correct. So all I'm doing is being a repository such that my colleagues won't have to lessen the number of people who call them and the clinic has someone that's designated that they can call. Again, the issue is the services are going to be provided whether I am the physician of record or not.
It's a ridiculous argument, is my point. The question is, is there something they should be able to come together on? If it's not this, and the issue of taking care of women in trouble, then obviously there's no place for the two sides to agree on.
With the amount of news coverage that we in the media give to the abortion debate, what are some of the other health issues that we are missing?
In our state, just look at what's bad, and we are the worst. We've got the highest infant-mortality rate of anyone in the country; we've got the worst adult-onset diabetes problems; we've got the worst obesity, the worst hypertension, the worst kidney disease, ... the highest percentage of people in our population on dialysis--as a result, usually, of hypertension or diabetes.
On top of those bad things ... the difference between white health and black health is worsening and not improving, so that's a major issue from a public-health perspective, and it costs our state a lot of money.
In what way does it cost our state a lot of money?
On all sorts of different functions. If you're an employer and you've got--plain and simple--if you've just got too many black people in your employment group, and the employer is paying for health care, just because of the differential between white morbidity and black morbidity on disease, it's going to cost you more to take care of your employee population. ... On top of that, when people get sick, obviously they take off work and someone has to pay more to have those shifts covered. ...
For the African American male, our life expectancy in Mississippi is 64.8 (years), so technically, we've got no reason to pay into Social Security because on average, we're not going to make it. ... For the black male in Mississippi, we don't reach retirement age, for all intents and purposes. That's a major problem. For the most part, while we die at 64-point-something, we're sick 10, 15 years before that, for part of the highest (productive) output years, when we know the most, have seniority, when we can be the most beneficial to our employers.
Are there any areas where Mississippi is making progress, or is it all bad news?
No, clearly not. But unfortunately, we always slip when things are good, based on the leadership du jour. From a public-health perspective, from what I know, things like tuberculosis, like our immunization rates (are better than before).
We were best in the country in teen smoking prevention before all the money was spent in the tobacco trust fund. We know how to do good things with limited resources; there's no question about it. The problem is that we are not consistent over long periods of time in making sure that we address an issue and eliminate (it) or at least make dramatic improvements before we move on. As the teen smoking has shown, we're still doing good; we're not as bad, but now I think with teen smoking we're starting to reverse most of the improvements that we made. And with really little amounts of money--I think we were spending about $20 million a year statewide on teen smoking prevention, and it was having just a dramatic effect.
We can do those same things with same kinds of targeted well-focused efforts on lots of issues. ... When we want to do something, we can. ...
Almost every place where we could really have targeted efforts, we are not doing it. And all our schools are yet one of those examples where you can have a lasting impact with a little bit of money. (It takes) more up-front expenditure, but the rewards are immense on the back end--more dramatic than the tax abatements and up-front money that we use with attracting these large employer groups like Nissan and Toyota. If we just had that sort of public-health vision, we would never be last. We would be among the best, healthiest citizens in the United States.
After seeing how Dr. Reddix was treated, it's little wonder why people leave the state to practice their professions elsewhere.
- golden eagle
Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves has gone too far, too fast with too little. Where was Gov. Bryant on the issue of not bringing Dr. Reddix up for confirmation? Dr. Reddix is one of the brightest and best physicians in the Country. MS continues its position as the "worst" in most categories and because of the limited intelligence of certain elected officials. It really sounds strange for Reeves to create laws governing abortion clinics that clearly state that they must have an Obstetrician/gynecologist to address emergency situations. Does this law state that if you are a MD and board certified in Ob/Gyn, you are prohibited from serving on MS' State Board of Health? Hang in there with us, Dr. Reddix. Hopefully it won't be long before the citizens of this State wake up and vote these little minded folks out of office. We can't expect our State to move forward with politicians who are not forward thinkers.
Neither of you understand the political exigencies that were at play here, so please. As the leader of the Senate, the lieutenant governor was entirely within his rights to overturn his participation on the board. golden, people leave the state to practice because of job availability. Dr. Reddix wasn't mistreated and, because he has a job and a family entrenched in the area, isn't leaving. What's your assertion? That just because his nomination to the board was rescinded that we're gonna see a mass exodus of physicians leaving the state? Really? justjess, who would you rather have attending to an emergency situation during an abortion? An orthopedic surgeon? An endocrinologist? Mississippi leads the nation in several adverse health factors followed, very very closely, by the remainder of the southern states in no particular order. Why is that? Well, Dr. Reddix touched on one of them in the article by citing the disparity in morbidity/mortality within the black population. Another is access to preventive, primary and specialized health care within Mississippi and other southern states. And, justjess, please recall that a very short while ago, the citizens of this State voted these folks into office...
Yea, like jess we need forward thinkers like the leaders of California. MS would do amazing things with a 16 billion dollar budget deficit.
Neither of you understand the political exigencies that were at play here, so please. As the leader of the Senate, the lieutenant governor was entirely within his rights to overturn his participation on the board. golden, people leave the state to practice because of job availability. Dr. Reddix wasn't mistreated and, because he has a job and a family entrenched in the area, isn't leaving. What's your assertion? That just because his nomination to the board was rescinded that we're gonna see a mass exodus of physicians leaving the state? Really? Yes, Reeves has the right to do so, but my assertion is that when people see how narrow-minded their political leaders are, you really can't blame young people for leaving. Dr. Reddix may not have been mistreated, but what kind of message does that send to others who may want to consider staying here after their college years?
- golden eagle
To the blogger who said, "Dr. Reddix wasn't mistreated", my question is this: Are you in the business of mind reading or better still, can you really know what a person FEELS when he is discriminated against? Remember that Reeves said that Dr. Reddix was not qualified to serve. This same blogger continues by saying "the lieutenant governor was entirely within his rights to overturn his participation on the board". Is Mississippi becoming a Communist Party or are we under the dictatorship of a KING? No, Reeves did not have a "Right" to do that. Why, because if was for all the WRONG reasons! Robbier, I don't know what could possible be on your mind here: It seems that you always come down on the low end of the fense. Try climbing higher. It hasn't been that many years ago when Black OB/GYN residents could not train here, even at UMC. They had to go to other states who would allow Blacks to practice. I personally know many young physicians who have not and will not return to this State because of the political climate and backward thinking of far too many with far too much power!