Sunday, March 20, 2016
Health clinics get their due in Tallahassee
OUR POSITION: It was a good year for charitable health clinics in Florida.
Gov. Rick Scott reversed course and did the right thing this year in agreeing to fund the important work of Florida’s nonprofit, volunteer-based community health clinics.
Absent from the list of items marked for a gubernatorial veto last week was $10 million budgeted by the Legislature for the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics. This is the umbrella organization for independent health care clinics, including the Virginia B. Andes Volunteer Community Clinic in Port Charlotte, the Englewood Community Care Clinic and the Senior Friendship Centers of Venice.
Two years ago, the association received $4.5 million for its 87 organization-members. Last year, the House and Senate put even more money into the pot, appropriating $9.5 million.
But inexplicably, after the session ended in 2015, the governor vetoed it.
Last year’s action showed a shameful disregard for the importance and value of these community-based health services.
The organizations in our area provide vital safety-net service for the poor. The clinics rely largely on volunteer service from doctors, nurses, office workers and others. They deliver some of the direct health care services no longer provided by the state Department of Health itself in Charlotte and most other counties. (Thanks to an extraordinary local lobbying effort, Sarasota County thankfully has managed to retain direct health department services.) The clinics also provide an alternative to hospital emergency rooms, saving untold millions in costs.
Last year’s veto hurt.
The previous year, the Andes Clinic received $84,500 and the Englewood Clinic $43,100. The $95,225 received by the Senior Friendship Centers in 2014 supported an expansion of dental services to elderly clients.
By week’s end, the Charitable Clinics Association sent out an optimistic memo alerting members to the good news from Tallahassee.
In Englewood, clinic Executive Director Beth Harrison was pleased. The clinics still must apply for specific funding, so the direct impact is unknown.
But, she said, “This is certainly welcome news.”
Doubly so, since the $10 million was twice the amount allocated in 2014, the last time the clinics received funding.
Harrison said she expected the state money could help fund a portion of the director’s position and the part-time nursing director. It also may be used to purchase lab equipment that would allow patients to get lab work done in-house. The savings could be huge.
Harrison also noted the Englewood Clinic — open just two nights each week — had served its 5,000th patient last week. An impressive milestone.
Kudos to the governor for doing the right thing this time around. And, above all, kudos to the local people who do the week-to-week, day-to-day work to make our communities healthier.
We can’t say too loudly: They deserve our full support and thanks.