Rural Health to get $1.5M state grant

MANATEE -- Manatee County Rural Health will receive a $1.5 million grant earmarked for primary care services, according to a news release from the Florida Senate.

The funding comes from an initiative by Sens. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, Don Gaetz R-Niceville and Health Appropriations Chairman Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to provide a lower cost alternative than the emergency room for non-insured and Medicaid patients with health problems.

Manatee County Rural Health already has a emergency room diversion program in place.

“They’re really thrilled the state has recognized the good work they are doing in keeping their clients out of the emergency room and providing a good value for the people of Florida,” said Tom Nolan, a spokesman for Manatee Rural Health. “Eighty-one percent of their clients are on Medicare or Medicaid.”

Nolan could not answer if the funds would go into the current program or if the grant will replace previously awarded funds such as an expired grant.

Groups receiving awards from this initiative are required to match state funds with local dollars or in-kind services.

“This initiative has created tangible results,” said Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, in a prepared statement. “I could not be more pleased to see these funds go directly into the hands of a worthy organization that will be able to better serve our citizens.”

The Haridopolos Primary Care Initiative is helping 36 communities across the state by establishing or expanding primary care services for low-income patients.

“Our objective is better access, better care and better control of health care costs,” said Haridopolos, president of the Florida Senate. “I’m pleased to join with Sens. Gaetz and Negron in supporting the missions of outstanding organizations with solid track records in providing primary health care services in Florida.”

Rural Health launched an emergency room diversion program several years ago, designed to ease ER overcrowding by diverting non-emergency cases to the agency. The agency added staff and expanded operating hours at some locations to accomodate those patients and provide follow-up care.

Nearly 39,000 people were diverted under the program between July 2007 and June 2008, the latest fiscal year for which figures were immediately available. Haridopolos' initiative is part of a broader effort to address what he has called a "broken Medicaid system," according to previous news reports. About $20 billion of the state's annual budget of $70 billion is spent on Medicaid, and the federal health care law will make it worse, said Haridoplos, a critic of the law.