Shannon Nickinson: Rick Scott vetoes hurt health care for poor

Gov. Rick Scott touted the 2015 state budget as the Keep Florida Working budget.

While that remains to be seen, one thing seems clear: It sure isn’t the Keep Florida Healthy budget.

One of the casualties of Scott’s veto pen was the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, a nonprofit based in St. Petersburg that represents not-for-profit clinics that serve low-income, uninsured and underinsured Floridians.

Giving people without health insurance a place to get health care besides the emergency room is a crucial social and economic development issue.

That’s especially true in Escambia County, where local health care professionals estimate that nearly 50 percent of the population does not have health insurance.

Scott struck $9.5 million from the budget for the group, which has 87 member clinics in the state, including Health & Hope Clinics in Pensacola, Century and Cantonment.

The Health & Hope Clinic in Pensacola got $50,000 last year from the group. It asked for $75,000.

Suzie Farthing said they hoped that funding this year would allow the clinic to expand services.

Farthing is internal interim executive director for Health & Hope. She said that last year they used FAFC money to pay a clinic manager, cover lab costs, expand services at the downtown clinic next to Baptist Hospital and expand electronic medical records.

“It was very disappointing,” Farthing said. “More than 80 clinics statewide were looking forward to that funding.”

Health & Hope’s overall budget is about $380,000. With FAFCC funding, Health & Hope has seen 764 unique patients and provided 3,203 medical provider visits.

Without it? “We’re all scrambling,” she said.

That pool of money was important, Farthing said, because it could be used toward operating costs. Many grants only may be applied to expanding services or programs.

“We want to (better) serve the folks we’re trying to serve,” Farthing said.

Another casualty of Scott’s vetoes was the Florida State Rural Primary Care residency program, which trains primary care doctors in underserved rural areas — like Northwest Florida.

Scott’s veto of $3 million in funding intended to support a rural primary care residency program serving North Florida means the program will have to be discontinued, said Mike Burke, a spokesman for Sacred Heart Hospital.

Those doctors in training worked with Sacred Heart through the Rural Practice Development Center based in Pensacola. 

Established in 2011, the center is a partnership between the Florida Department of Health and Sacred Heart Health System’s residency programs, which are affiliated with the Florida State University College of Medicine and Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Burke said.

The center also sponsors a high school-based program in Okaloosa County designed to mentor and encourage selected students who show an interest in a future medical career, Burke said.

Through the Center, medical students and resident physicians train in rural clinics and hospitals with the hopes that exposure to what Burke called “both the rewards and realities of rural practice” will encourage them to stay in areas where the need is greatest.

Places like Northwest Florida.

In an email, the clinic association’s Mark Cruise wrote: “Florida has a proud tradition of free and charitable clinics serving our state’s most vulnerable residents. We endeavor to keep that tradition alive and well in the months and years ahead.”

They’ll do it now without the help of their state government.

Shannon Nickinson is the editor of PensacolaToday.com, a news and commentary website in Pensacola. Follow her on Twitter @snickinson.com. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Shannon Nickinson



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