No Stopping Now
Dr. Kenneth Williams continues to invest in his Holly Springs community.
BY ETHEL MWEDZIWENDIRA
PHOTOS BY PAUL GANDY
Dr. Kenneth Williams didn’t land his career by chance.
The enduring work of the physician results from years of obstacles and experiences that ultimately made him a household name in Holly Springs. The Moss Point, Mississippi, native has dedicated his career in bettering the community. After purchasing a hospital in the northern Mississippi town to keep it from closing, his contribution to the area continues to grow. He credits this to his love for helping others — which won’t wane anytime soon.
Generation after generation
Born in southern Mississippi, Williams grew up in a medical household — he says he was never stirred into joining medicine — he just kind of grew into it. “When you grow up around a farm, then you’re probably going to be a part of that farm,” Williams says.
Both his father and grandfather practiced dentistry, and his great-great grandfather was a physician. Williams went on to attend his family’s alma mater — Meharry Medical College in Nashville.
The idea of helping people struck a chord with Williams; even now he finds nothing more rewarding than knowing he’s helping someone, not even his salary.
After completing his residency at Wayne State University Hospital in Detroit, the psychian moved back to Mississippi and started practicing in 1989.
Williams started off his career at a government clinic in Byhalia, Mississippi, where he found himself perfectly happy until four other physicians at the clinic departed shortly after his arrival. Williams sought permission to work at another hospital in Mississippi and learned of an opportunity in Holly Springs.
The mayor of Holly Springs at the time, Eddie Lee Smith, needed a physician in the small northern town. Smith brought in Williams from Byhalia to open a practice at Marshall County Hospital, which was operated by the Methodist Hospital System in Holly Springs.
“Being from Mississippi, I wanted to work in Mississippi,” he says.
Due to underperformance, though, the hospital soon moved its operations to Memphis, Tennessee. Williams turned this turn of events into another opportunity to serve his community. He purchased the Holly Springs facility and a year later, in January 1992, reopened its doors.
William’s personal connection with the community, along with his disappointment in the hospital’s performance, led him to make the purchase. The Marshall County Hospital had gone through four different holders before Williams arrived. “I saw the instability with the staff. The hospital itself was being used as a commodity to sell to someone else. I had a love for the people and the location, and I knew the need. I told myself that I couldn’t see the hospital close,” Williams says.
Williams bought the failing hospital for $1 million without any outside funding, which proved a significant challenge. From finances to bringing in a new team, everything the hospital has accomplished has been handled by Williams and his staff.
The first order of business after purchasing the place was to reshape the facility. Williams knew the infrastructure like the back of his hand, and he had a plan for that process. Knowing he still needed someone skilled to run the facility, he turned to his uncle — Perry Williams. Perry brought years of administration experience in Atlanta, Georgia, and Tupelo, Mississippi.
The team has since reshaped the hospital in every way, turning around its poor reputation with improved services and an overall makeover.
“I had to learn real fast how to operate the hospital, but the first thing I told everyone was that there would be bumps on the road, and the key to us surviving is treating people like people, not like a number.”
Onward and upward
Growing up during the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and entering a field that featured few African-American medical doctors, Williams recalls multiple episodes in his career where he was faced with prejudices. At times people didn’t consider him a black minority, and other times mistrust in African-Americans’ education influenced patients’ perceptions of him. In the end, though, those misconceptions have subsided. “People know when you’re a good physician,” he says.
“I just take a good punch and keep rolling because it’s not something that is going to set me back. There are numerous instances where prejudices have stood in the way, but you know what? We just keep on moving.”
Williams’s office is currently in the first stages of a plan to put a medical campus in Holly Springs, and the medical clinic is part of that project. Along with a new hospital, a health and wellness center and a fitness center, the new project will sit on 32 acres of land. It will offer cooking and dance classes, including food therapy, and will teach techniques for patients to exercise without spraining their joints.
“We are trying to seek some governmental assistance with this project. Mississippi has a reputation of not eating healthy and being obese. If you don’t have the facilities or the environment to change that, then it won’t change,” he says.
The project has gone through years of planning, but the past ten years in health care have been rocky. But Williams manages to push forward through it all, he says.
“[Growing up] I wasn’t one of those people that required a lot of sleep to survive, I know that’s bad for your health, but you know, we’ve made it thus far.”