By Leah Allen
BC Staff Writer
The National Association of Community Heath Centers recently recognized one of Delta Health’s founders, Dr. Robert Smith, and its current CEO John A. Fairman as co-recipients of the Extraordinary Leadership Award.
They were presented with the award at the organization’s Community Health Institute and Expo in Orlando, FL.
Fairman, who was born and reared in Cleveland, has been working in hospital administration and consulting for over 44 years.
“I saw all manner of illness and suffering while I was growing up in the Delta. My mother often told me I should be a doctor because I was always helping people out and bandaging them up. I didn’t want to be a doctor but I did want to help people,” Fairman said.
He went to school at Hardin-Simmons University where he double majored in speech and business.
Fairman went on to earn his graduate degree in hospital administration from Trinity University.
“I was the first African American in the south to become a hospital administrator,” he said.
Since his graduation Fairman has worked at hospitals and clinic around the county helping to turn around failing systems.
As CEO of DC General Hospital he reduced a $40 million deficit in his first nine months.
This ability to help healthcare organizations get back on track was what first brought him home to the Delta.
“They (Delta Health) asked me to come down and work on a consulting project to help reverse some negative trends. Things were pretty bad. In fact a friend of mine, James Hodges described the situation by saying “Delta health was so deep in the hole they had to have light pumped in.” He told me I ought to come back home and take the job as CEO. I had no intention of leaving Chicago though,” recalled Fairman.
Eventually Fairman did return and his efforts helped to bring Delta Health back to life.
“When I came we had two clinics one in Mound Bayou and one in Greenville. Mound Bayou was open fulltime but Greenville was only open part-time and none of the employees at either facility worked 40 hours. Now we have ten locations in eight cites,” he said.
While he has helped Delta Heath make enormous strides, he said they are not done improving the program.
“We recently added clinical psychology to our offerings and we are gearing up to add behavioral health services to an underserved Bolivar County,” said Fairman.
Of course there would be no Delta Health to improve without the work of Dr. Robert Smith.
In May Fairman and the Delta Heath Board of Directors renamed the two clinics in Greenville the Dr. Robert Smith Medical Center Greenville South and Greenville Central to recognize his enormous contribution to the organization.
Smith has been working to secure medical care for underserved populations for nearly 60 years and has also previously received the American Medical Association’s Medal of Valor Award for his work.
After graduating from Howard University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., Smith returned to Mississippi in 1962 and became the first volunteer southern medical field director with the Medical Committee for Human Rights.
Shortly after his return he became involved with the Freedom Summer and urged others to come and help him treat the men and women who were campaigning to secure voting rights for African Americans.
At one point he even taught himself to fly so he could more quickly reach the Delta from his Jackson clinic.
After the 1964 Freedom Summer Smith and some of his colleagues suggested that the government fund medical centers for individuals who were without care.
Their idea led to what are now called Federal Qualified Health Centers; located in both urban and rural areas the health centers provide preventative service and treatment to millions of Americans who would be otherwise unable to afford it.
“I understand why they would name him (Dr. Smith) but I am flabbergasted that they would name me as well,” said Fairman of the NACHC award. “It’s humbling.”