KEY COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS COMPLETE AHEC BUDGET DEFICIT
On March 14, when the Florida State Legislature passed a record $112.1 billion budget, the Keys Area Health Education Center (AHEC) was devastated to learn that the spending plan did not include the $650,000 requested from the organization to provide medical and dental services. Keys care for vulnerable children in low and middle income families.
In fact, despite receiving significant funding over the past eight years – $500,000 for the 2021-22 fiscal year – not a penny would go to the state-level organization in 2022-23.
“I literally don’t know what we’re going to do,” AHEC CEO Michael Cunningham told Keys Weekly upon hearing the news.
But less than 90 days later, Cunningham says local governments and community organizations have responded to AHEC’s call, with donations and pledges currently covering all but $20,000 of the AHEC’s original request. state agency.
“It was really a tough job to take on…but the community really came together,” Cunningham said. “Many entities and people have reached out to us and helped us through the process, from directing us to specific foundations with specific assets or introducing us to people and other entities with whom we didn’t have a relationship in the past. ”
Although some pledges have yet to be fully finalized, AHEC’s tally currently includes: $100,000 from the Ocean Reef Community Foundation, with a donation of $50,000 and an additional $50,000 requiring matching donations ; another $100,000 grant obtained through the same foundation requiring matching; a $25,000 donation from the Ocean Reef Children’s Foundation; a $200,000 gift from the Edward B. and Joan T. Knight Foundation; a $25,000 donation from insurer Florida Blue; a $50,000 donation from Baptist Health South Florida; two $10,000 donations from the Key West Noon Time and Marathon Rotary Clubs; and a $9,500 donation from United Way of Collier County.
Other commitments from the Monroe County School District, the cities of Key West and Marathon, and the Village of Islamorada are in the works.
AHEC provides services to children during school hours, including but not limited to annual physical exams, COVID-19 testing, sickness and wellness visits, treatment for minor injuries, vision and hearing tests and prescriptions. In January, the nonprofit partnered with the Waypoint Foundation and the Smile Maker Program to add a state-of-the-art mobile dental van and service all areas of the Keys on a rotating schedule.
According to Cunningham, a large portion of AHEC’s offerings would have been temporarily removed had community partners not stepped up.
“With a $650,000 loss, that would have been about 60% of our funds,” he said. “We should have closed about a third of our health centers and completely eliminated the dental program. This support gives us a full budget which means we will be able to keep all centers open and be able to run our full dental program throughout the next year.
While the AHEC Appropriations Bill was introduced by State Rep. Jim Mooney in November 2021 and received a favorable report from the Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee of the House on Jan. 18, the organization has yet to receive a solid answer as to why the long-running funding request failed to reach Governor Ron DeSantis’ office.
But looking ahead, Cunningham said conversations with State Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Mooney have been encouraging, with AHEC moving up the list as a “renewed priority” for next year.
In addition, AHEC secured a new lobbying firm, moving from lobbyists from Metz, Husband & Daughton to Johnston & Stewart Government Strategies.
“I think with a new lobbying firm, we’re going to be very active with our local legislators as well as those on the Appropriations Committee, more than we have been in the past,” Cunningham said. “This will include multiple visits to these people and offices throughout the legislative calendar. … We should have their full attention next year.
With special thanks to Uri Mikolay of the Ocean Reef Community Foundation, Knight Foundation, Baptist Health and local municipalities, Cunningham said that while he is reluctant to see a silver lining in a major budget shortfall, the organization is more than grateful for the new sources. community support.
“It will be something we look back on and learn from,” he said. “Certainly the new relationships and people who understand what we do and how important it is, that’s one of the positives that came out of the situation.”