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MSDH seeks to improve Early...

MSDH seeks to improve Early Intervention programs

By: Sarah Ulmer - August 17, 2023

State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney told members of the Legislative Task Force that MSDH will be laying aside any self-interest to work with other experts to resolve issues in Early Intervention programs.

At a Monday Legislative Early Intervention Task Force meeting, Dr. Daniel Edney, State Health Officer of the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH), said the agency has not met the mark in executing the state’s Early Intervention (EI) program.

Dr. Daniel Edney

“I want to reassure you that we actually know how to do things at the Health Department, and we do things pretty well, but here is an area where we are not doing well,” Dr. Edney told those in attendance.

Edney has been in his position at MSDH for roughly a year following the resignation of Dr. Thomas Dobbs.

Upon taking on the new role, Edney said he was made aware of the issues in EI programs during his transition to the position. He conveyed that conversations with State Senator Nicole Boyd shed light on struggles with the program.

The First Steps Early Intervention programs in Mississippi are run by the MSDH. The program aims to enhance child development which in turn improves a family’s ability to meet a child’s needs. This often leads to improved quality of life for these children later in life. The program believes it is most successful when professionals partner with families to identify concerns and plan solutions together.

Dr. Edney originally noted that access to EI program resources were particularly difficult for low-income families, which is a problem across the health care spectrum for many rural communities in Mississippi. But he also found that provider rates were extremely low.

One of his first actions to reverse that negative trend was to push additional funding out to providers utilizing dollars that came in to MSDH during the COVID-19 pandemic. Edney ordered a 20% increase in pay for the fee schedule.

The second major problem he found was that EI programs were not billing Medicaid for targeted case management. Dr. Edney said he moved the program to a revenue cycle which immediately brought in revenue from Medicaid. This allowed MSDH to pay their Medicaid match, which is 25%, at the end of the fiscal year. When federal money is matched it allows programs to potentially draw down even more the next cycle.

These actions also brought to light compliance issues with federal grants the program had received. Dr. Edney expressed his concern, particularly because it had not been brought to his attention by EI leadership.

After tackling financial concerns, Dr. Edney said he learned of communication barriers that were creating what he called an “uncooperative culture.”

“I was learning of a culture of not being cooperative with our community partners and apparently not respecting thoughtful recommendations from our advisory groups. For me, just common-sense things if you’re running the program,” said Edney.

The more he looked into the program, the more Edney found there was a culture of saying “no” which made community partners, agency heads, lawmakers and others hesitant to reach out. He said he has experienced this first-hand over the last year. As the team at MSDH were diving into the issues, they were hearing very little from the outside. Edney said people feel uncomfortable to call.

“What I’m telling you today is please inform us at the agency of problems you are dealing with,” said Dr. Edney. Later on in his remarks he added, “Putting all the self-interest of the Mississippi State Department of Health on the table, no more territory or turf or power issues. We are putting aside our self-interest for the sake of this program.”

Dr. Edney added that he hopes everyone will do the same, for the sake of the care of Mississippi’s children.

Ultimately, Edney said the program has exceeded the professional expertise necessary to run oversee EI, noting that a decision was made to centralize EI programs, a move he disagrees with. However, in the meantime, he has made major changes to EI’s lead management.

The director of EI programs has been relieved of their duties and will serve as a consultant. Edney also removed the director for Health Services which houses EI programs and relieved them of their duties, with the exception being Child and Adolescent Health.

Dr. Edney has since put the EI program under the management of Kris Adcock, who oversaw the implementation of the state’s Medical Marijuana program. Adcock has prior experience with EI programming.  Dr. Victor Sutton, who heads Community Relations and was a major factor in decreasing COVID vaccine access disparities to minority communities, will now oversee Health Services.

“It is a frustration when you are being shielded form problems that need attention, but we are fixing that,” said Dr. Edney.  

Edney said he hopes the Legislature and the task force will help to fix the program before December. He plans to give the group an honest assessment of what MSDH is doing and what they should not be doing in order to best serve children.

Edney told attendees that he believes EI would be better suited with a hybrid version of the involvement of a state agency and hub model. He hopes a consensus can be reached within the next year as to what that model would look like.

“If you can find another agency exec that is going to care more about this than me, than God bless you. Then they need to take it. But I’m taking this as a professional challenge, a public health challenge, and it is one that all of us working together we can accomplish,” said Dr. Edney.

The legislative task force was initiated during the 2023 Legislative session through a bill authored by Senator Nicole Boyd. In her time on the Senate study committee for Women, Children and Families, Boyd said she became aware of the need for more early childhood intervention programs.

In the fall of 2022, it was reported that the state was only serving 1,592 children in EI programs.

“That was extremely frightening, but what was more frightening about that was the data that was presented by a Nobel Prize winning economist who looks at the dollars that you invest in education and various levels. Your most efficacious dollar or ROI is when you invest it in that early intervention,” State Senator Boyd told Magnolia Tribune.

SB 2167, which created the task force, was passed to determine if the state’s current approach to EI programs is effective.

“This is one of the largest returns on investments you can make with any education program. Many of these children who receive care in those zero to three programs will often not need special education services when they are older,” said Boyd.

With numbers indicating upwards of 10,000 children that should be receiving these types of services, the disparity is great.

You can watch the Task Force meeting below:

About the Author(s)
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Sarah Ulmer

Sarah is a Mississippi native, born and raised in Madison. She is a graduate of Mississippi State University, where she studied Communications, with an emphasis in Broadcasting and Journalism. Sarah’s experience spans multiple mediums, including extensive videography with both at home and overseas, broadcasting daily news, and hosting a live radio show. In 2017, Sarah became a member of the Capitol Press Corp in Mississippi and has faithfully covered the decisions being made by leaders on some of the most important issues facing our state. Email Sarah: