Margaret Morrison retires from public
RETIRING OFFICER – Dr. Margaret Morrison, a pediatrician and the public health officer for District 6 of the Mississippi Department of Health a nine-county area that includes Meridian and Lauderdale County works in her office. Photo by Anna Wright/The Meridian Star
By Steve Gillespie / staff writer
July 1, 2003
A chapter in public health care closed Monday when Dr. Margaret Morrison finished her last day on the job as the state health officer for East Mississippi.
Morrison, 70, treated her staff to pizza, salad, cookies and watermelon for lunch at the local state Department of Health office.
She also tidied up her office one final time, leaving behind a stuffed chicken to remind the person taking over her job that there are a lot of chicken processing plants in the area.
Between caring for her family and serving as chairman of the board of directors of Hope Village for Children, Morrison's calendar will remain full as her retirement begins.
Dr. Robert Hotchkiss is a family practice physician who oversees District 5 of the health department which includes Hinds County. He also will take over Morrison's nine East Mississippi counties of District 6, spending part of his time in Meridian.
Hotchkiss said the state Department of Health is reorganizing from nine districts to five districts statewide. He said the Coast district is the only one that will remain as is.
Hotchkiss, who has 18 years of public health experience, said an official announcement from the agency possibly will be released today.
When Morrison, a pediatrician, began her public health career more than 30 years ago, family planning services were just starting in the department. Birth control pills could be bought for a dollar per pack and had only been available for a couple of years.
Morrison said the department has come a long way over the years and that it was refreshing to see those changes happen.
She said the availability of Medicaid for pregnant women has benefited the health of families, particularly the health of mothers and their babies.
Morrison has seen frustrations through the years, like the state's battle against the West Nile virus. She also has seen times of uncertainty, with the threat of biological terrorist attacks.
Morrison acknowledged the public's latest health concern is Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. But she is concerned the public is forgetting the importance of childhood immunizations.
She said mothers today have no clue how serious childhood diseases of the past polio, measles, whooping cough and small pox can still be today.
While other jobs and services within the health department will come and go depending on private providers, Morrison said immunizations and environmental health are critical and are the real reasons for public health departments.
She said she wishes there were more subdivision ordinances in the area that addressed community wastewater, but she is happy some subdivisions have voluntarily put community wastewater systems in place.
She added there is potential for the E-coli virus, sometimes found in ground beef, to be present in freshwater lakes where children often swim.