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HL20: Aaron Shirley, MD—Driving Force Behind Health Houses

Margaret Dick Tocknell, for HealthLeaders Media, January 2, 2013

"The Iranian experience was the driving force for pursuing HealthConnect," which Shirley says he started about two-and-a-half years ago. HealthConnect is designed, in part, to reduce admissions and emergency department visits at the Central Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

In Mississippi, there is the same "general population and similar disparities," Shirley says of the Iranian communities. "You translate the 2,000 people in a neighborhood of a rural city or town, and you've got the same problems." After seeing the Iranian model in action, Shirley says he thought: "Why couldn't we have the same model here? It proved effective there."

His goal is to open 15 health houses in the Delta Region north of Jackson. To date two health houses have opened in schools. "We said, ‘Wow, these schools are located in the village; we got a roof, windows, electricity, now let's train community health workers in that school space," Shirley recalls.

A hallmark of the Iranian system is that the healthcare workers are part of the community they serve. Shirley says the school locations provide the neighborhood connections that are particularly important in the Delta Region where a patient may have the best of intentions to follow doctor's orders, but may lack the resources to do so. That's not something a person might be comfortable confiding to a physician, he explains, but community health workers are from the Delta and more likely to be aware of a patient's personal situation.

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