State funding boosts health care services for the underinsured in North Florida

Four safety-net health care clinics in Alachua and Duval counties will receive funding as part of Gov. Rick Scott’s $77 billion state spending plan for 2014-2015, signed last Monday. The new funding supports an expansion of services in these clinics, which serve low-income residents from over 21 counties in North Florida.

The University of Florida has a history of collaborating with each of the clinics benefiting from the appropriation — providing supplemental funding to their programs and using their facilities as training sites for health care students and staff. However, state budget cuts over the last five years resulted in service reductions at these sites.

The $750,000 state appropriation, which goes into effect July 1, will be distributed among the four clinics.

“We are very grateful for this support from the Legislature allowing us to continue and expand our important work providing a health care safety net in our North Florida community,” said Candice King, executive director of the Alachua County Organization for Rural Needs, or ACORN Clinic — one of the organizations that will benefit from the additional funding.

At these four clinic locations, health care services are either free or provided at substantially reduced fees, which is beneficial for many citizens who are not eligible for Medicaid or Affordable Care Act subsidies because they are at or below the federal poverty level. Nearly 4,000 of these residents previously received health care access through Alachua County’s CHOICES Health Services program, which expired in December 2013. It is estimated that the newly funded clinics will serve 6,232 patients in the first year.

“These facilities provide our state with a cost-effective and crucial service — reducing the number of patients visiting emergency rooms and meeting the health care needs of many in our community,” said Sen. Rob Bradley, who served on the Florida Senate Appropriations Committee.

The health care safety net clinics that will benefit from the funding include the ACORN Clinic, the UF College of Medicine’s Mobile Outreach Clinic, the UF College of Nursing’s Archer Family Health Care practice and the Sulzbacher Center’s dental clinic.

ACORN is a nonprofit organization that provides health care primarily for residents of rural Alachua, Bradford and Union counties. The clinic provides social services and low-cost medical and dental care to people who have limited access to affordable health care or to the resources available in cities.

Since the ACORN Clinic opened in 1974, faculty, staff and students from UF and Santa Fe College, as well as community practitioners, have served at the clinic as volunteers. In addition, medical, nursing and pharmacy students often have clinical rotations there and dental students provide much of the care in the dental clinic, under the supervision of UF College of Dentistry faculty.

“This funding will allow us to add mental health services as well as individualized patient education for health conditions such as diabetes and high cholesterol,” King said.

The Mobile Outreach Clinic serves low-income neighborhoods and rural areas in and around Alachua County. The clinic is a large bus fitted with two exam rooms; it is staffed by volunteer physicians, physician assistants and advanced practice registered nurses who supervise medical students from the UF College of Medicine.

“The UF Mobile Outreach Clinic is very grateful,” said Nancy Hardt, M.D., director of the clinic and a professor in the UF College of Medicine. “With the loss of CHOICES funding, our free clinics are operating at full capacity and still can¹t meet all the need.”

Archer Family Health Care is a nurse-managed health center that is owned and operated by the University of Florida College of Nursing. Located in Archer, Florida, the practice offers adult, pediatric, psychiatric, prenatal and women’s health care to individuals and families in rural north central Florida, including Alachua, Gilchrist, Levy and Marion counties. The practice also serves as a clinical site for College of Nursing undergraduate and graduate students.

Archer Family Health Care provides care regardless of financial status, said Denise Schentrup, D.N.P., ARNP, lead nurse practitioner at the facility and associate dean for clinical affairs in the UF College of Nursing.

“These state dollars will help to improve access to much needed services at the practice and increase student clinical experiences in rural medicine,” Schentrup said. “Increased student experiences in rural, underserved areas increases the numbers of students who seek employment in these shortage areas after graduation.”

The Sulzbacher Center’s health clinics are located in Jacksonville, Florida, and Jacksonville Beach, Florida. Both clinics provide medical, dental and behavioral health services to homeless and low-income/uninsured adults and children. The center is staffed in part by doctors, nurses, residents and interns from the UF College of Dentistry, Florida State University, Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida.

“During my tenure, we have seen the demand for dental services grow significantly in northeast Florida,” said Suzanne Ebert, D.M.D., director of dental services at the center. “This funding will help us hire an additional dentist and will significantly increase the amount of services we provide to our community. We could not be more excited for this opportunity.”

In addition to Bradley, Rep. Keith W. Perry also spearheaded the budget request, with support from local legislators Reps. Clovis Watson Jr., Charles E. Van Zant and Mia L. Jones and Sens. Aaron Bean and Audrey Gibson.

“Gov. Scott understands the needs of our community, having visited on numerous occasions,” Perry said. “His veto pen did not touch the funding provided to ACORN Clinic and other North Florida facilities, in providing significant acquisition to 21 counties with health care services in areas without immediate access. We’re proud to have them serve our community and our citizens.”