(MARKS, MS) It is miraculous! The local stakeholders and residents of Quitman County are awaiting the highly-anticipated reopening and ribbon cutting ceremony of the county’s rural access hospital, scheduled for November 12, 2021 at 10:30 a.m.
When the Quitman County rural critical access hospital closed in 2016, it was a devastating blow to the community. Clamoring for hope, Marks/Quitman County, Miss. recently got a full-service grocery store back and has set its sights on local tourism, especially with the 2018 grand opening of the Amtrak station in Marks. Caught by a vision for renewal, a local hospital operator approached the County leaders with a message, “Let’s re-open the hospital and bring back jobs so that we can save lives.” Quentin Whitwell grew up in Oxford some forty miles away and with two business partners saved the bankrupt neighboring hospital in Batesville, Panola Medical Center, in March 2019 when that facility was set to close at midnight. He saw Quitman County as an outpost that needed robust healthcare services. Having served in the State capital city of Jackson as a City Councilman, rural healthcare came naturally — help people in service.
Marks, is the county seat of Quitman County, a small rural town with less than 2,000 residents, has a deep-roots in agriculture and civil rights history. Marks/Quitman County served as the starting point of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, an effort to gain economic justice for those who suffered from poverty. Due to this national civil rights history, Quitman County is designated as part of the Mississippi Freedom Trail. In 2011, Marks was selected from over 200 sites viewed as one of the thirty locations in Mississippi to receive a historical marker by the Mississippi Freedom Trail Task Force.
Many of its current residents live below the poverty line. Because of out-migration, the land and its people have suffered in recent years. Healthcare is scarce, and the local hospital closed in October of 2016. COVID-19 has wrecked the area boasting 1,042 cases and 27 deaths this year as the aptly named “Delta variant” swept through its population.
The Panola Med team partnered with the Board of Supervisors to establish Quitman Community Hospital. To the board, it is a statement to take back their community and restore it to its glory. For Quentin, it’s a message that nothing is impossible when people work together, and local bank President Peyton Self did not hesitate to answer the call. Armed with a one-million-dollar loan secured by the County and provided by the Citizens Bank of Marks, Quitman Community Hospital will open its doors again fully functioning as a medical-surgical hospital with an around-the-clock Emergency Department.
Racing ahead, the Panola Med team has hired nurses and providers, techs, and staff. Over 500 applicants have sent in resumes from locals to as far as Boston. The old hospital has been restored with supplies, equipment, and beds. By meeting the State and Federal guidelines of a critical access hospital, the City of Marks and Quitman County are poised for a brighter future.
The phone number for the new Quitman Community Hospital is 662-388-0700.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 8, 2021
Quentin Whitwell, CEO Panola Med
(MARKS, MS) – The hospital in Quitman County closed on October 31, 2016, as the county’s largest employer with 99 people. Without healthcare, despondency has grown with in the unemployed. Current acute healthcare situations have worsened due to the length of time it takes to receive critical medical and healthcare services in neighboring counties, which is at minimum a 30-minute drive.
With the county’s resolve to reopen, a partnership has been created with nearby Panola Medical Center. A path has been cleared for the Quitman Community Hospital to reopen by vote of the Quitman County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday morning. The hospital will have the capacity to provide emergency care as well as beds for acute patients, including those with COVID-19.
Manuel Killebrew, President of the Quitman County Board of Supervisors stated that he is “elated that the board, Delta Medical Foundation and Panola Medical Center in Batesville are forming a partnership to reopen the hospital.” Killebrew went on to say, “This means that 75-100 good paying jobs will return to the county, and it goes without saying, we need a hospital close by to provide medical services for our citizens.”
Panola Medical Center was re-established by its acquisition from a bankrupt estate and has improved its bottom line, grown its services and become a partner with local industrial and government partners. Quentin Whitwell, CEO and Chairman of the Board, made a statement about Panola’s influence and the Quitman re- opening. “Serving our patient populations in the North Delta region is our mission. Providing exceptional care for better health is our driven passion.”
“By reopening this hospital, the loss of jobs in the community will be reversed and the citizens of Marks will have renewed energy to grow the economy in the area,” stated Senator Robert Jackson, who represents the State of Mississippi, District Eleven, which includes Quitman County. “I am pleased to have brought the Panola Med operators to the Board and that this new relationship has been forged.”
“The practical care we give every day needs follow-up and ease of access to specialists that can tend to higher acuity levels. But having a launching point from our own hospital will save lives and create new outcomes for patients,” said Lonnie Moore, a local Nurse Practitioner who also owns the former hospital building, and the president of Delta Medical Foundation.
Quitman County is located in the Mississippi Delta. This is a rural underserved county with the racial makeup of 27.3 % whites, 70.9% blacks and 1.8 % others. It has a median annual household income of $25,383 and a poverty rate of 35.6%, making it one of the poorest counties in the United States. The 2020 Census data shows Quitman County population declined by -17.40%. This county went from 8,223 to 6,792 residents living in this county, the largest percentage of lost population out of the 82 counties located within the State of Mississippi.
Recent data from the National Rural Accountable Care Consortium ranked Quitman County 79th for health outcomes, 79th for health behavior, and 77th for health factors out of the 82 counties in Mississippi. This data also indicates that the county struggles with health issues such as 58% of the adult population dealing with high blood pressure, 45% with high cholesterol, 31% with heart disease, and 17% with diabetes.
In recent years, Quitman County has shown glimmers of promise and resilience. In April 2021, the closed SuperValu reopened as an independently-owned Jeffcoat’s Family Market. In May 2018, the ribbon cutting was held for the opening of the newest Northwest Regional Amtrak stop in Marks. And, due to the county’s rich 1960s civil rights history, ties to four National Historic Native American Mounds, iconic blues artists and country music late great Charley Pride, and a National Wildlife Refuge, Quitman County is becoming a nascent tourism destination.
Having the Quitman Community Hospital back up and running will make a significant difference in the quality of life for its residents, and help change the trajectory of the exodus of the county’s population.
The ribbon cutting and grand opening of Jeffcoat’s Family Market will end a 4-year drought for Quitman County as it emerges from a desolate food desert. The county became a food desert when the doors of the (formerly SuperValu) store officially closed on June 17, 2017. The grand opening event is planned for Monday, April 5, at 10:00 a.m. 1012 Martin Luther King Drive, Marks, Miss.
Quitman County is an underserved community located in the rural Mississippi Delta. The 2017 closing of the sole food outlet resulted in repercussions to the county’s health and economy, the loss of 30+ jobs, and a reduction in sales tax revenue.
Thus, the reopening of this 18,000 square foot full-service grocery store will allow local residents to shop at home and not travel distances over 30 minutes to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, and meat. “This project has been priority for the Quitman County Board of Supervisors and the City of Marks Board of Aldermen,” said Mayor Joe Shegog. He stated, “board members came together with a working agreement to seek funds and an experienced operator to get the store reopen.”
The new owner/operator James Jeffcoat has over 50 years of experience in a full-service grocery store, and 30 of those years include management, operation and ownership. His first job in this grocery industry was with Jitney Jungle while attending high school in Greenville, Mississippi. He was later employed with Big Star in Greenwood and Food Giant in Indianola, where he worked while attending Delta State Community College. After graduation, Mr. Jeffcoat was hired as co-manager of Sunflower Food Store in Indianola, Mississippi, and held the position for four years. In 1980, he was promoted to Manager. Sunflower Food Store was a high-volume grocery store with a bakery, deli, floral section, produce, seafood and meat department. It employed a total of 85, and his managerial tasks included: ordering products, gross profits, management of department heads, employee evaluations, store advertising, employee scheduling and other operational aspects of the grocery store.
Since 2011, Jeffcoat has owned and is the CEO of a full-service grocery store in Tunica, Mississippi, which has been very successful. He is expanding his business into the Quitman County’s market at the location of 1012 Martin Luther King Drive. With the expansion, he will increase his buying potential and purchase inventory at a discounted rate to keep his prices low.
Manuel Killebrew, Quitman County Board President stated, “He is grateful that the store will be reopening and thankful for Dr. Waller and Dr. Warrington for their generosity in donating the building and land to the City of Marks, which helped make this project not only possible but financially feasible.
According to Velma Wilson, the County’s Economic Development Director, financial assistance was made available through a State of Mississippi bond fund; awarded during the 2019 Legislative Session. This grant was obtained through the efforts of State Senator Robert Jackson and local businessman Peyton Self. These grant funds helped with upgrades to the 34-year-old store’s infrastructure. The store was built in 1987. Wilson, also stated that the Quitman county Board of Supervisors was awarded a 2020 Healthy Food Financing Initiative/Reinvestment grant to assist with upgrade to the store refrigeration equipment.
Jeffcoat said, “he is looking forward to becoming an integral part of this community”. His mission is to satisfy customers located in Quitman and surrounding areas by providing a broad selection of high-quality and competitively priced products, with exceptional customer service. He also stated; being a part of this rural community will allow the trade population easy access to staple and perishable food items.
Wilson emphasizes; the reopening of the full-service grocery store will benefit a population of 9,545 in rural Quitman County and the ten-mile trade area that is currently considered a food desert. It will allow Quitman County residents not only easy access to staple and perishable food, but will help improve health conditions, reduced travel expenses and create 40 full and part-time local jobs.
In the near future the citizens of Quitman County will be able to get onto an elevator to access the second floor of the historic courthouse to attend public meetings and court proceedings. Obtaining this elevator was made possible through the Board of Supervisors’ submission of a proposal and resolution for the renovations of the 110-year-old courthouse building.
With this information, Senator Robert Jackson submitted a Senate Bill to request funds during the 2020 Mississippi Legislature Regular Session for this project. The renovations include exterior repairs and painting; installation of an elevator, and window restoration.
The elevator is crucial to the building to allow citizens with disabilities to access the upper level as the board continues to work to improve the accessibility and bring the courthouse into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The board members are appreciative to Senator Jackson for submitting this proposal to the Senate. Thanks to the Senator’s hard work and efforts, Quitman County was awarded $400,000.00 in bond funds for the project.
The Quitman County Courthouse was constructed in 1911 when the county seat was moved to Marks. Since then, the Courthouse has served the community as a very important building to the County, City of Marks, and other municipalities. The two-story courthouse was designed by the Chamberlin and Associates Architecture Firm in the Neoclassical style and was designated a Mississippi Landmark in 1990.
The Board has made it a priority to improve the quality of services and the experience of its citizens at the Courthouse. Property improvements to dedicated parking around the courthouse square have recently been completed, and with bond funding the Board of Supervisors will continue to make improvements.
Belinda Stewart Architects (BSA) of Eupora, Mississippi will work with the Board on this project. They specialize in the restoration of historic buildings and have extensive experience with planning and construction. BSA has worked with the Quitman County School District on the restoration of Phase One of the Marks Rosenwald School, which is now complete. In 2019 BSA helped the school district receive additional funds from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for Phase Two of the Rosenwald Project.
The Board feels that they are a valuable partner in this significant project for the renovation to the Quitman County Historic Courthouse. To stay up-to-date with its progress, visit quitmancountyms.orgor the Quitman County MS Facebook page.