Colleen Burton talks ‘Live Healthy’ initiative at Chamber Forum
Health Quality Chair Colleen Burton will have her subcommittee focus on Department of Health issues.

Colleen Burton Florida house
The Florida Senate is considering booting state funding for residency programs for medical school graduates.

Sen. Colleen Burton said during a 2023 Future of Florida panel that the state has “multifaceted” shortages across various health care professions in the state and hinted that it will be one of the areas targeted by the Senate’s upcoming “Live Healthy” initiative championed by Senate President Kathleen Passidomo.

A Lakeland Republican, Burton is the current Chair of the Senate Health Policy Committee and is expected to be deeply involved in the initiative. She told those gathered at the Florida Chamber’s annual meeting and forum that she expects several bills to be part of the effort that will be a focus of the 2024 Session that starts in January.

Burton said that while Floridians are “fortunate to live in a rapidly growing state” it puts more pressure on the health care system, which was already dealing with shortages in areas such as nursing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The thing of it is, all those great folks who come to Florida don’t bring their physicians with them, or their nurses or their behavioral health practitioners,” Burton said. “We’re looking at numbers. And when you look at numbers, even without the rapid growth that we have in Florida, we know we have shortages across the health care spectrum.”

She said that one item under consideration is to boost state funding for medical residency programs for medical school graduates because currently the state does not have enough slots for all the students graduating. Many up-and-coming physicians often wind up staying in the area that they obtain their residency.

Burton also mentioned that Florida had more requests for a tuition reimbursement program for health care professionals than there was available funding. The program requires those who receive financial assistance to practice in underserved areas.

Burton stressed, however, that the initiative will go beyond just workforce issues. She suggested that legislators could look at the types of health care screenings now in place that would enable some diseases and conditions to be caught earlier.

“There is a big conversation that we’re going to be having around screenings. How do we provide greater opportunities for all Floridians to get screened,” she said.

Burton added that Florida does have an access issue especially for those living in rural areas who have to drive “great distances” to see a doctor. She noted that during a previous panel, Monesia Brown, Director of Public Affairs for Walmart, talked about how the retailer has established health care centers across the state.

Brown said Walmart has opened up 28 locations inside of its supercenters in Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa. The centers vary by location but are designed to offer some primary care services, including x-rays, behavioral health and dental.

“We did see a community need and we leaned into it,” Brown said.

Christine Jordan Sexton

Tallahassee-based health care reporter who focuses on health care policy and the politics behind it. Medicaid, health insurance, workers’ compensation, and business and professional regulation are just a few of the things that keep me busy.


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