Brandon’s Aiden Robinson might look a lot different today if it weren’t for the care he received at the JMS Burn and Rehabilitation Center in Jackson in 2019.
Aiden, who was 9 at the time, was cooking with his father at their home when he accidentally spilled a pot of boiling water on himself, burning more than 80% of his body.
“For the best results, burn patients need to be seen as soon as possible. Not all doctors and emergency personnel even know how to treat burn victims’ skin, so I’m afraid what will happen to these patients now?” said Aiden’s mother, Christel Robinson.
Kristel is referring to the closing of the burn center that cared for her son three years ago. Merit Health Central, where the program is located, announced in early September the program will close in October. It is the only accredited burn program in the state.
In 2021, the center had almost 2,000 appointments and 7,261 clinical visits. There were 2,776 surgical cases in total.
Now, several burn center employees at Merit Health, who did not want to be named because they feared retribution from their current or future employers, say they are trying to find a new home for the program. They said they received word in just over a month that the program would be closing, and moving the program to one of the eight remaining Merit Health locations in the state was not of interest to Merit Health or its parent company, Community Health Systems.
“We were told on September 7th that we had until October 14th,” one employee told Mississippi Today. “The shock was understated with over 600 patient visits per month. We are very worried about our patients.”
Another employee also felt blindsided.
“For something as vital to the community as this — (it was), we’re going to tolerate aggression,” another employee said of the hospital’s decision.
Hospital officials did not respond to questions from Mississippi Today at the time of publication.
In a September announcement about the closure, hospital officials cited the pandemic and staffing issues.
“The COVID-19 pandemic and the challenging staffing and hiring environment are making it difficult for us to recruit the professionals we need to maintain the burn program, which is the primary reason we have made the difficult decision to close the burn center effective October 14, 2022,” — the message says.
While staff are reeling from the shock of the announcement, bosses are in talks with hospitals about opening a burn center elsewhere, and they hope things will break down soon.
However, after October 14, patients will be transferred to one of the regional burn centers in Augusta, Georgia, Memphis, Tennessee, Mobile, Alabama, or New Orleans, Louisiana.
Mississippi’s burn programs have not been successful in recent years. The program, formerly operated in Greenville by Delta Regional Medical Center, closed in 2005. Merit Health opened its burn center with Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America in 2008.
In 2006, before Merit Health agreed to open the center, state lawmakers approached then-University of Mississippi Medical Center Vice Chancellor Dr. Dan Jones.
“The finances of burn care at the time were much less than ideal. Unfortunately, like many health issues, it affects lower-income families more than other families … The same problem that happened in Greenville would be our problem,” Jones said.
He said he went to the Legislature to ask for an annual commitment to help UMMC run the program. Legislators offered UMMC one-time money, but without obligations for current funds.
“We made the difficult decision that we can’t do this,” he said.
Now, more than 10 years later, officials declined to comment when asked by Mississippi Today if UMMC is considering pursuing a burn center.
Before Aiden’s injury, Kristel knew nothing about the burn program. When she and her husband called 911, she assumed Aiden would be taken to Mississippi Children’s.
“When we got there (to the burn center), we didn’t have to wait because he was so bad. They informed us that the night was the window of time the doctors needed to save the skin,” she said. “(In order to have) as few surgeries as possible and to make his recovery easier, he will need surgery that night.”
One of the procedures was performed on his ear. At the time, only three doctors in the country performed it, Christel said.
“We’re not just losing a hospital, we’re losing talented doctors, nurses, therapists and therapists when this center closes,” she said.
After the accident, Aiden required a year of treatment, including physical therapy. He received all follow-up care at the burn center clinic, his mother said.
Aiden is 11 years old today. The only thing left from the accident is a small scar on his arm and skin that is very sensitive to the sun.
“If someone had told me in 2019 that Aiden would be able to live without scars, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Kristel said.