A statewide healthcare program that puts college students to work in rural and low-income clinics is itself on life support.
Legislative leaders are ready to scrap the program because they think it doesn’t use enough of its budget dollars to provide real health care. The students say lawmakers just don’t understand the critical services they’re bringing to communities that desperately need them.
Pharmacy major Keyla Brooks is one of nearly 7,000 college students studying health care who fanned out across Florida last year to work in community clinics through the Area Health Education Centers program.
Keyla’s experience is making her want to specialize in HIV/AIDS care.
“Just because I see how it affects everybody’s lives and me as a healthcare professional, being able to work with that specific population, it really touches me because I can help so much.
But lawmakers aren’t convinced that the $12 million price tag for the program is worth it. The current state budget proposal in the House of Representative scraps the program entirely.
Some lawmakers are concerned the program has spent millions of dollars on outreach efforts like brochures promoting healthy living.
House Budget Chair Joe Negron says for his money, he wants a program that delivers actual patient care.
“I don’t want to pay for brochures. I don’t want to pay for health fairs. I don’t want to pay for buses to come into communities to give advice and guidance to people. I want people to get medical care.
But the program’s supporters say the health education outreach efforts are a tiny percent of what they do. They argue dismantling a decades-old program with ties to all five of Florida’s med schools and hundreds of community colleges and technical school will rob students of real-life experience helping others.
Florida’s Area Health Education Centers program is fully funded in the Senate version of the budget, but not funded at all in the House version.
The program says its students helped 5,000 patients statewide last year. Similar programs exist in 43 other states.