As LeMoyne-Owen College prepares to start its fall semester in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the college announced Wednesday (July 22) a significant health-care partnership with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare.
The three-year partnership means the 158-year-old college will have on-campus health services, including a wellness center, for students. Previously, those services were outsourced to a clinic on E.H. Crump Boulevard.
Just as important, the partnership will be valuable in dealing with pandemic issues if students eventually are allowed to attend classes on campus.
“We’re just very excited, fortunate and blessed to announce a great new partnership between Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare and LeMoyne-Owen College,” said Dr. Carol Johnson-Dean, LeMoyne-Owen interim president, during an interview with The New Tri-State Defender.
“This partnership will help us provide health-care services, create a health-and-wellness center right on our campus and help us to support students with their health-and-wellness needs.”
Dr. Albert Mosley, senior vice president and chief mission integration officer for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, said, “This really is sort of an extension of the work that both LeMoyne-Owen College and Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare (which has an extensive community health-care outreach program) long have been doing.
“So, this partnership represents a really good marriage between two institutions that have dedicated their histories and lives to the most underserved members of our community.”
The partnership is another recent first for Memphis’ only Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Earlier this month, LOC announced it was the beneficiary of an endowment of $40 million created from assets from the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis.
The gift allows unrestricted use of the funds by the college and LOC will be able to use five percent of the endowment – about $2 million – annually.
LOC will open its fall semester on Aug. 12 with remote classes. Johnson-Dean said a decision will be made after Labor Day about whether on-campus classes can resume, depending on whether the spread of COVID-19 infections continue to rise or decrease.
Like most colleges and universities here and across the nation, LOC is starting the fall semester earlier so that courses will be completed before Thanksgiving and students can remain off campus until after the New Year holiday.
Johnson-Dean said the college has partnered with Microsoft to purchase, at a reduced cost, 650 Surface laptops for all new and returning LOC students, for the first time.
The computers cost more than $1 million, Johnson-Dean said, with the cost covered mainly by the city and county.
“We have been very fortunate. The city of Memphis under the leadership of City Council Chair Patrice Robinson and Mayor Jim Strickland, and the County Commission both have stepped up and donated dollars to us from their (federal) stimulus dollars to help us pay for the computers,” said Johnson-Dean, pointing out that county Commissioners Reginald Milton and Mickell Lowery are LOC graduates.
Many of LOC’s students are the first in their families to attend college and most students receive financial aid to pay the college’s more than $11,000 a year in tuition and fees.
Johnson-Dean said the college initially received about $1.6 million in federal stimulus money, with a requirement that $830,000 of it go directly back to students and “that’s exactly what we did based on their Pell Grant eligibility.”
Many of LOC’s students come from low-income or poverty line households, a situation exacerbated by the pandemic, Johnson-Dean said. She said the college was able to give money back to all but about 80 of the college’s students. Enrollment last semester was about 800.
“One of the ways, too, is that if students lived on campus and had to move off campus in late March (because of COVID-19 safety concerns), we reimbursed students for their room and board,” she said.
“This (pandemic) disruption seriously impacted their families. A lot of our students had been on work study. We continued to pay work study. And, a lot of their family members lost their jobs, so our ability to help students during this difficult time was tremendously important to the students being able to still stay enrolled, stay in class, finish the semester, as well as come back for the summer semester,” Johnson-Dean said.
Asked if the partnership between Methodist Le Bonheur and LOC grew out of the pandemic,
Mosley said, “This partnership was brought in to some degree by the pandemic, but it also represents a long history of the type of work that Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare has done in the Mid-South community.
“We are in parts of the city where others are not…So, this partnership with LeMoyne-Owen College is really an extension of who we (both) are and what we have been doing for quite some time.
“We are incredibly excited that you have two institutions that are anchor institutions and staples in this community that are mission aligned. We are coming together now to address what we know to be a major concern within the community when it comes to the concerns of our brothers and sisters,” Mosley said.
Johnson-Dean added, “The college has needed this for a long time and I think the need has been accelerated due to the pandemic. But, in our community, we know that African Americans have large disparities in access to health care.
“When you look at the data from the pandemic, more of our families are testing positive, and the most recent data, where they are showing increases in those testing positive, are in the 18-24 age group, which is the group we actually serve here at the college.”