Student healthcare loses state funding
AHEC seeks funding options after state veto
Dylan DeMeza, a third grader at Sugarloaf Elementary School, was playing on the playground when he was stung by a bee. With a history of bee allergies in his family, he was taken to see Florida Keys Area Health Education Center (AHEC) physician’s assistant in the school’s office, Laura Kyer, who took out the stinger and monitored him the rest of the day.
Six thousand six hundred students, siblings, parents and staff used the no-cost, primary care services last year from Key Largo to Key West.
“It was so helpful having her there,” said Dylan’s mom Karli DeMeza. “I would have had to leave work, pull him from class, and take him to the doctor. She really was great, professional, and very thorough — checking on him in his class throughout the day.”
But, without a financial boost, this completely free school-based service won’t be available since the program lost its $250,000 state grant in budget cuts this past year.
“It really shocked us,” said Michael Cunningham, AHEC executive director about being sliced from the state’s budget by the governor. Adding insult to injury, AHEC received a grant for an extra $115,000 contingent on the $250,000 to fund a third provider at the schools for this year, keeping a practitioner on hand in the Upper, Middle and Lower Keys five days a week. “We are going to do whatever it takes to keep this up and running.”
AHEC pulled some of its own funds and is asking the help of community foundations, public and private donors to come up with the rest of the $250,000 before school starts in August. The potential $365,000 would provide three medical providers who would rotate at the six locations – HOB Middle School, Key West High School, Sugarloaf, Marathon Middle and High School, Key Largo School and Coral Shores. The goal is to have a clinic open in each area from 30 minutes before the first bell to 30 minutes after the last bill. (Parents can escort children who need care to the nearest open clinic.)
On top of bee stings and other small ailments like strep throat testing, the services include school physicals, health, vision and hearing assessments, dental evaluations, prescriptions, referrals, weight management counseling, and so much more.
“The AHEC school clinics are the first of their kind in the Florida Keys to provide no-cost healthcare to all Monroe Country school children,” said Kyer, the physician’s assistant in the Lower Keys. “There are many children who are uninsured, underinsured, or deductibles haven’t been met. Some have no primary care options at all.”
Since AHEC is a nonprofit 501c3, 100 percent of the proceeds go toward the health services. The money covers the providers’ salaries as well as the medical equipment and supplies used throughout the year at zero cost to the families.
Cunningham said he has spoken with the Monroe County Health Department, Baptist Health, and the school district, and private donors about funding the program. He said raising the $250,000 isn’t too far of a long shot, turning that into $365,000 for Keys kids in local schools.